Word leaked on Friday that Art Rooney II, the Steelers team president and owner, will meet with disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown some time soon in Florida, a state where both have residences.
It’s a rather stunning turn of events, considering Brown, who officially requested a trade from the Steelers last Tuesday while still remaining silent yet cryptic on his reasons why, is apparently ‘#OpenForBusiness’ from every NFL team but the one scheduled to pay him roughly $17 million in 2019.
Mr. Rooney has wanted to speak with Brown since right after the disappointing end to the Steelers 2018 campaign, one that was made even more depressing by Brown’s 11th-hour ditching of his coaches and teammates just days before a must-win regular season finale against the Bengals at Heinz Field. These actions—skipping out on meetings and practices—were so egregious, head coach Mike Tomlin, a man who has shown a willingness to put up with a ton from his star and high-maintenance receiver, deactivated Brown in-spite of the aforementioned importance of the finale.
Brown immediately separated himself from his team—his employer—in the days following the end of the 2018 season, and even went so far as to ignore phone calls from Rooney.
Yet, to his credit, despite the insubordinate actions of his employee—including leaving the Bengals game at halftime—Art II kept pushing for a meeting with his receiver, and the fact that he’s been able to have it in person, rather than on the phone, is pretty remarkable at this stage considering the chasm that exists between employer and employee.
Brown wants a divorce, but Rooney isn’t going to let him get his way, not without a meeting, not without an explanation. What will come of this meeting? Will an agreement be reached to keep the star receiver in Pittsburgh for 2019 and beyond? That seems highly unlikely at this point, what with everything that has transpired—including some unstable and rather disturbing recent behavior from the star receiver. At the very least, maybe we’ll get some clarity. Maybe the owner will make the star receiver know who’s the boss and who holds the leverage in this scenario. Better yet, maybe the owner, who’s father and grandfather before him always treated their players like family, will make it clear to Brown that he cares about him, that the Steelers have always cared about their players—it’s hard to find many former players who have had bad things to say about the Steelers and/or the Rooney family.
But most of all, maybe the two parties can come to an understanding on how to move forward. Whether that’s Brown remaining a Steeler or getting his current wish—traded—remains to be seen, but if some understanding and some clarity can come from this meeting in Florida, everyone will be the better for it.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the pending meeting between Rooney and Brown is the just as recent news that the organization has apparently informed running back Le’Veon Bell, he of the season-long no-show in 2018 after being franchise tagged for a second-straight year, that it plans on utilizing the transition tag on him.
Unlike the franchise tag, a transition tag allows a player to go out and reach an agreement on a new contract with another team, a contract the Steelers will have the right to match.
Why do this? Why not just wash your hands of the whole mess and move on? After all, James Conner proved to be a viable replacement in 2018, and there’s no reason he can’t be the team’s running back of the future—provided he stays healthy. And even if Conner doesn’t have the chops or the health to be the team’s running back of the future, as journeyman C.J. Anderson proved last season, when he was signed off the scrapheap and essentially outshined Todd Gurley, he of the mega offseason deal loaded with guaranteed money—the kind Bell has been in-search of for the past two years—during the Rams run to Super Bowl LIII, maybe the running back position is one where you churn and burn players, instead of signing them to huge contracts.
Why? Because, why not? What does Pittsburgh have to lose, other than a compensatory third-round pick in 2020? If the Steelers can get more than that in a trade for Bell, they need to do everything in their power to try and make that happen.
If they can’t, they can’t, but at least they let Bell and other current and future players know they will not be dictated to when it comes to these kinds of contract disputes.
It would be easy to simply give both Brown and Bell what they want and walk away. But by doing that, they could potentially weaken their organization by setting dangerous precedents.
The Steelers may not be able to afford to keep Brown and Bell around for reasons that have to do with finances and locker room stability, but they also can’t afford to weaken their organization.
I believe what the Steelers are doing right now by remaining open for business with both Brown and Bell is letting the world know they’re still the Pittsburgh Steelers, an organization of strength.