As the month of February is winding down, all 32 teams in the National Football League are readying themselves for free agency as well as the draft combine in the hopes of improving their chances of going all the way next season. But as teams are preparing themselves for the off-season, there is still an ominous dark cloud hanging over Western Pennsylvania that is threatening to destroy the fabric of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And if the Steelers don’t fix this problem soon, one of the NFL’s premier franchises will be reduced to a laughing stock.
The Steelers entered this past season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, but when it was all said and done, they weren’t even able to qualify for the playoffs. The Steelers missed the postseason by one game as they were an up and down team as their season was marred by questionable losses and in-fighting. And those same problems that prevented the Steelers from being a playoff team last season are still plaguing them.
In recent years Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has become one of the best in the business in regards to catching the football. In each of the last six seasons Brown has gone over 100 receptions which includes leading the National Football League in the category twice. But as good as Brown’s production has been, he cannot avoid the label of being the prototypical “diva” wide receiver.
Along with being one of the top pass catchers in the National Football League, Brown has become a disruptor which includes clashing with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the team’s former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and several players.
Following the Steelers playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs in January 2017, Tomlin gave a passionate speech to his team which included letting them know how he expected them to take care of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. But little did Tomlin know that Brown was filming this for social media as the world and Patriots alike had an opportunity to see this rant. And as the damage was done, the Steelers would fall in the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots 36-17.
However Tomlin and the Steelers have never taken it upon themselves to reign in Brown’s antics as he has continued to be a problem. Brown does not respect Tomlin, while he has also been clashing with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as well as not being a fan of the emergence of wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh.
Just prior to the Steelers regular season finale versus the Cincinnati Bengals, Brown and Roethlisberger had a spat at the team’s Friday practice which led to the wide receiver being benched for Pittsburgh’s regular season finale. And when the Steelers took the field versus the Bengals with their playoff hopes on the line, Brown was not in team issued gear as he decided to sport a fur coat. But the caveat to this saga was that Brown decided to leave Heinz Field in Pittsburgh at halftime instead of staying around to support his teammates.
Since that time Brown has gone on to brush off the Steelers organization during their attempts to contact him, while going to social media to mock Tomlin, and putting it out there that he wants to be traded. And all signs point to that happening as after a recent meeting between Brown and Steelers owner Art Rooney II, both parties agreed that it is indeed time to move on.
But Brown’s rift with the Steelers was able to shed some light on things; mainly the immaturity and complacency of Roethlisberger. Since being drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2004 National Football League Draft, Roethlisberger has had his fair share of the off-the-field issues which range from having a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life, to being involved in multiple sexual assault cases. And each time that Roethlisberger was on the back page of national newspapers for all of the wrong reasons, the Steelers have always stood by him. However this time around Roethlisberger’s name is not floating for what he’s done off of the field, but more for what he’s done and not done on the field.
Brown is fed up with Roethlisberger for consistently playing the blame game as he is quick to point the finger at others, but never himself. Rarely does Roethlisberger take responsibility for his actions, and as Brown no longer wants to be thrown under the bus by “Big Ben”, this football marriage is falling apart. And this all comes down to the Steelers never holding Brown or Roethlisberger accountable for their actions which have bubbled over into a substance that is polluting a once tight knit locker room.
Last summer we saw some Steelers players such as center Mike Pouncey support the team’s management publicly during the tense holdout of running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell was unhappy with having the franchise tag slapped on him for a second consecutive year, and players such as Pouncey siding with the Steelers management was surprising as it has always been an unwritten rule in the National Football League for players to go against another player when he is attempting to get a new contract. Bell would sit out the entire 2018 NFL season, and his presence was missed coming down the stretch when running back James Conner was limited due to injuries. Initially all signs pointed to the Steelers franchising Bell once again this off-season, but Pittsburgh has since decided against that as they will allow him to become a free agent.
And as all signs point to both Brown and Bell suiting up for new teams next season, the Steelers aren’t out of the woods yet due to recent comments that were made by the team’s general manager Kevin Colbert. Recently Colbert called Roethlisberger “unquestioned leader of this group”, while also claiming that the franchise quarterback has “52 kids under him”. Colbert has since attempted to walk back those comments, but it is tough to do since that ship has indeed left the port. I doubt that a locker room of grown men in the National Football League is going to take kindly to being referred to as kids, while Colbert is utterly mistaken if he believes that Roethlisberger is a leader.
Now the Steelers are in the midst of their off-season having to deal with something that they are unaccustomed to, and that is uncertainty.
It’s clear that Tomlin does not have control of his locker room, and trading Brown will not help that situation as long as Roethlisberger is still allowed to do whatever he wants which includes throwing his teammates under the bus. For decades the Steelers were one of the National Football League’s proudest franchises due to their consistency and commitment to winning. But now Pittsburgh is coming apart at the seams as they are being destroyed by infighting, finger pointing, and a lack of accountability. If this were the 1970’s, Roethlisberger and Brown would have had to walk into the Steelers locker room and deal with the likes of Jack Lambert and Joe Greene who would have put the fear of God in each of them. But these current Steelers don’t have that voice in their locker room and thus we could be looking at a sinking ship.
I would be surprised to see Tomlin coaching this team once his contract following the upcoming season, and at some point the Steelers will need to find Roethlisberger’s heir apparent. Since the Steelers last Super Bowl appearance in January 2011, they’ve been plagued by questionable losses which makes you question their leadership. These are the same Steelers who lost a playoff game in 2011 to a Denver Broncos team that was led by quarterback Tim Tebow who beat them by throwing a touchdown pass on a play that only had one wide receiver in the pattern. Since then Pittsburgh consistently finds ways to lose games that they should win which has resulted in them losing out to the likes of the New England Patriots for home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs, or in the case of last season, missing the postseason altogether. In times like this you need your leaders to step to the forefront, but for the first time in a long time, the Steelers are lacking that from their 53-man roster which threatens to make them just another National Football League franchise in 2019.