It has been one long Steelers offseason.
You didn't misread that first sentence; even though it's been barely over a week since Pittsburgh's quest for a seventh Lombardi trophy was unceremoniously put to bed by the Patriots in a 36-17 beat-down in the AFC Championship game on January 22, it already feels like we've had months of unsavory offseason news involving the Black-and-Gold.
Not even 48 hours after the Steelers exit from the 2016 postseason, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared on his weekly radio segment on 93.7 The Fan and hinted at not being around to play for the 2017 regular season.
After listening to and reading the quotes from Roethlisberger, who will turn 35 in March, the general consensus was that these feelings were brought on by frustrations over the way the season ended. Perhaps more than those frustrations, there are many who believe the real catalyst for these remarks was the general lack of focus of the team in 2016 and how the quarterback may not be happy with how his team is being run and coached at the moment.
In other words, the franchise quarterback was using the media to send a message to his teammates, his coach and his bosses--the Rooneys.
Whether you agree or not with Roethlisberger's method of airing his displeasure in public and creating a media buzz that has yet to die down, make no mistake, he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Steelers.
Speaking of media buzz, star receiver Antonio Brown simply won't stop generating such things, with the latest rumor being that he ran the wrong routes in some games in 2016--specifically the AFC title game--and may have done so on purpose.
However, whether this was done on purpose or not is not the point; the point is that the star receiver--the most productive at his position in the NFL over the past four seasons--at the very least, wasn't focused enough to run the proper routes in the most important game of his career; and, at worst, was intentionally screwing up because he wasn't getting enough passes thrown in his direction.
Either scenario is simply unacceptable and something that a franchise quarterback with Roethlisberger's tenure and accomplishments shouldn't have to put up with.
You throw in the touchdown celebrations, his reported sulking during games for, again, not being targeted enough and the now infamous Facebook Live post after the divisional round playoff win over the Chiefs two weeks ago, and Brown may quickly be falling out of favor with his coach, his bosses and, most importantly, his franchise quarterback.
You might think the touchdown celebrations are entertaining (I know I do). You may think the Facebook Live post that captured head coach Mike Tomlin's rant about the Patriots having more time to prepare for the AFC title game was a silly thing to worry about (I know I did).
However, it doesn't matter what you or I think.
Obviously, Tomlin thought it was a big deal, as did Roethlisberger, whose voice was also captured addressing his teammates after the big win. It's also a safe bet to assume other captains and team leaders such as Ramon Foster, who was advising his mates to stay off of social media right when Brown was broadcasting those very words on social media, as well as the likes of Cam Heyward didn't necessarily appreciate the star receiver's antics.
What about linebackers coach Joey Porter's arrest after the wildcard win over the Dolphins on January 8?
What about that defensive game-plan that was employed in the AFC title game, one that seemed similar to all those other failed game-plans versus quarterback Tom Brady that helped improve his career record against Pittsburgh to 10-2?
What about all those complementary receivers that were drafted in recent years but were totally no help to the star quarterback in the postseason?
Markus Wheaton, drafted in the third round in the 2013 draft: unavailable for the postseason due to injury, after contributing next-to-nothing during the regular season.
Martavis Bryant, drafted in the fourth round in 2014: unavailable for all of 2016--including the postseason--after being suspended a second time for pot.
Sammie Coates, drafted in the third round in 2015: after catching seven passes for 40 yards or more over the first five games, was a non-factor down-the-stretch and in the postseason, after breaking multiple fingers in October.
And what about Ladarius Green? He was the tight end the Steelers paid big money to in free-agency last March, who was supposed to be an upgrade over the just retired Heath Miller, a big man who could stretch the field vertically. Unfortunately, Green either took the better part of a year to recover from ankle surgery (seems unlikely) or to be cleared of neurological symptoms derived from suffering multiple concussions in 2014 and 2015 as a member of the Chargers (seems more plausible). As a consequence, Green didn't make his 2016 debut until November and ultimately only played in six games and was lost for the playoffs, after suffering a concussion against the Bengals on December 18.
That's four potential secondary targets that would have been better postseason options for Roethlisberger (and the Steelers offense, in general) than the likes of Jesse James, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers.
Maybe Roethlisberger is just fed up with it all.
I realize it's a bit harsh for the quarterback or just some nobody writer like me to complain about the lack of focus on a team that won nine-straight games heading into the AFC title match-up and was literally two victories away from a world championship.
But the ultimate goal for the players and the fans is to win a Super Bowl, which, unfortunately, means having to go through the Patriots.
Obviously, what the Steelers have been doing against New England hasn't come close to working.
On the America's Game episode that chronicles the 1974 Steelers and their journey to the franchise' first NFL championship, the legendary Mean Joe Greene talks about how, after watching the Dolphins, the Patriots of their day, methodically beat an opponent down on Monday Night Football, he was so angry and disgusted that his teammates didn't have that kind of focus, he literally quit the Steelers before being talked out of it in the parking lot of old Three Rivers Stadium.
Was it the wrong kind of leadership for Greene to display at that moment? Perhaps, but he evidently got his message across, as Pittsburgh went on to achieve the ultimate goal that season.
Five Januarys ago, the Steelers asked their franchise quarterback to tweak his game in-order to become better at his craft.
Today, it appears as if the franchise quarterback has turned the tables and is asking his bosses, coaches and teammates to tweak some things in-order to bring about more championship success.
I think they need to listen.