The playoffs will remind us of two former Steelers who fans of the team should be glad are, indeed, former Steelers. The fact is, though, if the Steelers had their way those players would still be here with the team. It is a reminder that even for a successful franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers, it sometimes is better to be lucky than good with your decisions.
The team has made more than their share of the right moves since 1970. The draft is one such example of luck. Every team can point to examples of picks that were, or were not, made that changed the course of their franchise. Tom Brady being passed over many times before finally landing on the Patriots in the 6th round is obvious, making them the team of the 2000s while those that passed had to regret that miscalculation. Teams in the 1980s, including the Steelers, similarly passed on Dan Marino and watched him create magic for over a decade on the Miami Dolphins. Miami got lucky that others miscalculated.
But everyone can point to the draft for errors or successes where luck was involved – it’s a crapshoot every year. Examples abound.
Where the Steelers can thank their lucky stars is with two high-profile roster decisions that didn’t quite go the way, at the time, that the Steelers wished involving veteran stars Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
These two tumultuous headaches were equally tremendous talents and cornerstones of the success of the club when they both balked at remaining with the Steelers. When each became a headline news distraction, the Steelers were put in a tough spot to try to smooth over their huge egos and demands.
And try they did.
With Antonio Brown, the path that they went down after they reluctantly traded him away seems much more promising. The key here is that they reluctantly traded him away after trying to make their relationship work, which included an odd meeting at Palm Beach International Airport between Brown and Art Rooney II. Obviously, the Steelers wanted to mend the fences.
He was the top wide receiver in the game when he went bonkers attacking Big Ben and mocking Mike Tomlin in the process. The price that the Steelers would receive in turn for trading him away wasn’t what an elite player should command. So, the Steelers obviously hoped to make an effort to appease him.
Why else meet him at the airport?!
Fortunately, that effort was rebuked by the bizarre Brown. The team is stronger at the position and more set for the future by having their wish – Brown remaining in a Steeler uniform – fall through. The draft pick of Dionte Johnson was tied directly to the draft choices received for Brown. And, if not for trading him, they likely would not have drafted Chase Claypool, who seems like a budding star.
Who would you now prefer? Antonio Brown or Chase Claypool and Dionte Johnson? An easy choice for the latter, eh? I believe so in hindsight.
The rebuilt receiving corps is a team strength, and enviable to even past receiving combos on the team that included Swann/Stallworth, Wallace/Ward/Brown/Sanders, and Ward/Burress, etc.
Brown, of course, went on to mentally implode with the Raiders and get in more hot water with the Patriots before resurfacing with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. While this past weekend proved Brown can still make a difference at times, he is no longer that threat that was an unstoppable force paired with Big Ben. His best days are in the rearview in contrast to the Steelers’ young stars, and the team is in a better position for the future thanks to a series of events that the Steelers brass tried to halt so they could retain Brown.
With Le’Veon Bell, aren’t the Steelers and their fans thankful that Bell harshly rebuffed the 5 year/70 million dollar contract the team offered him? Can you believe they ever offered that much money and that he actually turned it down? Quibbling over what was guaranteed or not, it was certainly a bad move by the Steelers’ brass to offer so much.
What’s more, it has been reported that the Steelers tried to trade for Bell last season from the Jets. Thank all that is Holy that the Steelers’ infatuation with retaining Bell fell through multiple times.
As you watch him in the playoffs, could you imagine having him weighing down the Steelers’ salary cap with that hefty contract? More so, he runs now as if he is carrying that mountain of money the Steelers offered him in a safe on his back. Without the well-coached Mike Munchak line studded with talent, his stutter-stepping patience looks now more like running in molasses.
He was a perfect scheme fit, at the time, for the Steelers. He was just-a-guy on the New York Jets. Now, he can’t even look revitalized in the best offense in football with the KC Chiefs. In fact, he looks slower than ever being surrounded by all that other-worldy speed on that offense. So, don’t just blame the pitiful Jets for his performance.
The Steelers run game hasn’t been any great shakes this season but certainly it would not improve with a slow-footed Bell. They already have that with Benny Snell Jr. and without Bell’s steep price tag.
Right now, if you believe such things exist, there is an alternate universe out there that still has Brown and Bell on the Steelers’ roster. That team is probably watching the playoffs on TV or golfing. Probably more accurately, Bell would be getting fat on a Miami jet ski while Antonio Brown throws furniture from his window.