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Antonio Brown is a selfish player, and that’s a good thing

Brown’s instance on being the guy is a sign that he puts winning first

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Brown, a professional receiver in the National Football League, is reportedly upset that he isn’t catching the ball enough. In other breaking news, rain is wet.

Brown’s “attitude” issues are nothing new—he apparently accosted both Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones on numerous occasions for failing to get him more involved in the offense. It’s tough to blame him, seeing as he’s had at least 100 catches and 1,200 yards in each of the past four seasons. With all that work, a guy gets used to having his number called.

The latest controversy surrounding Brown came about after a reporter for the NFL Network mistakenly accused Brown of complaining after DeAngelo Williams’ touchdown in the first half of Pittsburgh’s loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Aditi Kinkhabwala, who reported that Brown was “the last guy off the field” after Williams’ one-yard scoring dive, refuted her initial statements on Wednesday, stating on Twitter that she conflated separate plays, invalidating her report that Brown was upset about being “wide open” on the play in question (and to her credit, good luck finding a reporter anywhere who would willingly own up to that, so good for you, Aditi). Brown, in fact, was on the outside blocking cornerback Malcolm Butler as Williams dived into the end zone.

Regardless of the legitimacy of that report, both Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin have directly acknowledged that Brown is wont to complain about not being involved in the offense. That, as many people have rightfully concluded, could be a problem.

It would be easy to blame Brown’s general discontent on his willingness to chase statistics and, by extension, money. Chasing stats for the sake of having good stats seems a little farfetched, as Brown could retire tomorrow and go down as one of the best receivers in Steelers franchise history. Obviously, Brown wants 10 catches and 200 yards per game; what receiver wouldn’t? In fact, it would be fair to question Brown’s drive and commitment if he didn’t want the ball on every play. Hines Ward and Lynn Swann might not have vocalized it, but rest assured, those dudes wanted to catch the ball on every single play. However, the stories involving Brown’s dissatisfaction with the offense seem to arise whenever the Steelers are losing games. Is it really that crazy to think that maybe this guy just hates losing? Selfishly selfless, perhaps.

From a financial standpoint, Brown has nothing left to prove to the Steelers or anyone else. Sometime within the next seven months, the Steelers are going to make Brown one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL. Brown just wrapped up his third consecutive All-Pro season and has yet to cause any real problems off the field—the Steelers are not going to cut or trade him for having a hissy fit over a lack of targets.

Maybe I’m being naive, but I somewhat admire Brown’s “selfishness.” He desires to be involved in every play underscores his relentless competitive nature, and he likely exhibits these feelings because he realizes the Steelers tend to win games (especially close games) when he gets involved in the offense (17 catches for 284 yards in a 38-35 win over Oakland in 2015, 16 catches for 189 yards in a 34-27 win over Denver in 2015, 10 catches for 96 yards in a 27-24 win over Baltimore in 2016). Brown’s 14-catch, 154-yard effort against the Cowboys earlier in 2016 very nearly gave Pittsburgh a victory.

The key for Pittsburgh’s front office and coaching staff will be convincing Brown that he can still be an integral contributor to the team’s success on an every-down basis, regardless of whether or not he touches the ball. The Steelers were 11-1 when Le’Veon Bell had 20 or more rushing attempts last season, and its unlikely they will abandon that game plan moving forward. Unfortunately, the offense can only call so many plays per game, so a run-heavy attack would obviously impact Brown’s workload. Working in Brown’s favor, however, is the fact the Pittsburgh is in line to get Martavis Bryant back into the lineup in 2017. If this happens, most teams won’t be able to double-team Brown on every play, which should quell his thirst for targets.

Overall, you want your receivers to be a little selfish: it proves they care and that they want to be involved in the offense. Brown is no different in this regard, and he is well-positioned to once again lead a potent Steelers passing attack in 2017.