New year. Same old Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some of us hadn’t even finished lunch on Day 1 of 2019 before the first Steelers off-field controversy of the new year.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported that Antonio Brown had requested a trade.
Antonio Brown has requested a trade. Im told it was not a demand but he has asked to be dealt. Very unlikely Rooney would capitulate. Brown has issues with Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. Feels like the coach is too aligned with the QB.
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 1, 2019
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network presented a similar but watered-down version of events.
My understanding of the situation surrounding #Steelers WR Antonio Brown: As he exited the field in frustration on Wednesday, he yelled, "I’m done!" Then wondered why they don’t trade him. More venting in anger than anything. He has not made any actual trade request, officially.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 1, 2019
This comes on the heels of news that Brown didn’t miss Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals because of a knee injury. Rather, he was held out because he threw a temper tantrum at practice last Wednesday morning. Then he allegedly stayed away from practice and team meetings all week, only to show up Sunday expecting to play.
That incident last Wednesday may have included Brown throwing a football at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers quarterback denied Brown had a blow-up directed at him during a KDKA-FM radio appearance Tuesday.
If that incident did occur, Brown wasn’t just throwing a football at Big Ben. He threw a life preserver to Art Rooney II.
Brown’s antics have given the Steelers owner the option to do one of two things that otherwise may have drawn the ire of the fan base or ruined the organization’s long-cherished tradition of maintaining coaching continuity.
A.B.’s newest public meltdown, which allegedly is rooted in the belief that coach Mike Tomlin is too close to Roethlisberger and agitated with Brown, would allow Rooney to rationalize firing the coach to make his star wide receiver happy.
Rooney shouldn’t need such an excuse. This year’s Steelers collapse is just the latest waste of talent under Tomlin’s stewardship. Furthermore, Brown’s behavior is yet another in a long line of high-profile headlines illuminating the weekly circus act inside the Steelers locker room. Tomlin’s inability to control the chaos off the field has reached epidemic proportions.
Plus, the Steelers have failed to maximize a talent-laden roster featuring the most prized possession in football: a Hall of Fame quarterback.
What Tomlin has done — orchestrating a 12-year career without a losing season — suggests he has done nothing to deserve being fired. Yet, over the last 10 years, Tomlin has missed the playoffs almost as often as he has made them with just six postseason appearances. In only three of those seasons have his teams enjoyed playoff victories.
Given the talent, that record suggests replacing him is overdue.
Rooney’s sensibilities won’t allow him to fire Tomlin. He holds the Steelers’ reputation of maintaining a coach too dear. But if the payoff of keeping a generational talent such as Brown happy is needed to pull the trigger, maybe Brown’s demand is a blessing in disguise.
In turn, though, firing Tomlin in the name of capitulating to Brown may anger Roethlisberger and the move could backfire. Plus, keeping Brown would do nothing to quell the chaos in the locker room.
The other option is to trade Brown per his request and take a $21 million dead-money salary-cap hit in the process. That would make the team substantially worse but significantly calmer.
And coachable. That could be the easy sell by Rooney to his increasingly agitated fan base.
“We’re keeping Mike Tomlin as the coach, but we are doing so with the intent of actually allowing him to coach again.”
Brown would be traded. Le’Veon Bell will be with a different team. So “Barnum and Bailey on the Ohio” would be without its two biggest clowns. Thus allowing Tomlin actually to be in charge again without the daily madness of having to deal with those two walking, talking tabloid magnets.
It’d be an opportunity to reboot Tomlin’s reputation as a good coach as opposed to the one he currently has, which is one of a bad babysitter.
So those are two options for Rooney. My guess is he chooses neither. He’ll keep Tomlin and bring back Brown.
And I’ll be writing the same old column about the same old Steelers on Jan. 1, 2020.
Except, maybe by then, Rooney finally will be willing to do something about it after his coach and players bring another year of embarrassment and disappointment to Pittsburgh.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.