The Pittsburgh Steelers season came to an inglorious and disappointing end. As the Baltimore Ravens celebrated victory over the Cleveland Browns, the grim reality hit Pittsburgh. The Steelers, who at one point held a stranglehold on the division in Week 11, were going home. As if that wasn’t enough, the following days have revealed an incredible amount of drama spilling from the Steelers locker room. Antonio Brown was absent from the final game of the season with what was described as an injury.
It turned out to be something far different. Following a spat with a teammate, Brown stormed out of practice. He refused to answer calls from teammates, coaches, and even the owner himself. The firestorm that has followed has reached a shocking conclusion. The Steelers will likely be trading their All-Pro receiver before the new season begins.
Pittsburgh Steelers Will Likely Trade Antonio Brown this Off-season
How Did We Get Here?
The situation with Antonio Brown is fraught with a lot of speculation and really depends on who you believe. What is clear is that Brown got into an ugly dispute with a teammate during a mid-week practice. Following the dispute, Brown left practice and reportedly said he was “done.” It was reported Brown was suffering from discomfort in his knee, so the team scheduled an MRI. Brown became increasingly distant as the week went on. He refused to answer calls from teammates, coaches, team officials, even owner Art Rooney II himself.
Brown was deactivated for the final game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers needed a victory to help clinch the division title. He showed up for the game in street clothes and left during halftime. He has since become distant again, refusing to show up for the end of the year meetings. Reports have flooded out of Pittsburgh of contradicting sides to the story. According to reports, the teammate Brown had a dispute with was Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger claims that it did not happen. Some reports claimed that Brown requested a trade. Head coach Mike Tomlin denies that he has.
The entire situation, coupled with other off-field antics from Brown has led to the situation the Steelers find themselves in. Should they trade Antonio Brown? Can the Steelers accept the financial hit that would come with losing Brown? In an effort to return some much-needed stability to the team, should they do the unthinkable? There is a reason to believe that they will.
Steelers Have a History of Letting Top Receivers Go
It wouldn’t be out of character for Pittsburgh to move on from Antonio Brown. The Steelers have traded or let star receivers go in free agency multiple times in the last 15 years. Plaxico Burress was the eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and had turned into a very productive receiver. The Steelers let him go in free agency to the New York Giants. Santonio Holmes was also a first-round pick by Pittsburgh and was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIII. Off the field issues led to Holmes being traded to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick. Mike Wallace was another highly productive receiver that the Steelers drafted in the 3rd round. Contract disputes ultimately lead to Wallace leaving in free agency to the Miami Dolphins.
Whether it’s by off-field problems or contract disputes, the Steelers are more than willing to let guys go. If they feel they have someone that can produce without the headaches, they will move on. The decision might not always be popular, but the Steelers have a way with drafting the next man to do it better. Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were drafted as potential replacements for the departed Holmes. Should Brown leave his heir as the top wideout is already here, via the draft, in JuJu Smith-Schuster. James Washington would be the new second option, and it would be business as usual.
Would it Make Sense to Let Brown Leave?
One thing that separates Brown from the previous examples is his contract. Brown signed a lucrative extension following the 2016 season. Should the Steelers trade or cut him, there would be more than $21 million in “dead money” that would be on the team’s books for next season. The Steelers have options to make that penalty spread over two seasons if they release Brown. But releasing him allows him to sign anywhere with no compensation for the talent that he is. A trade means the Steelers have to swallow that dead money next year, but they could get some value for Brown. The current re-negotiation of Roethlisberger’s contract would take some of the sting out of the cap hit. Le’Veon Bell leaving after sitting out the 2018 season would also ease the cap hit. Draft picks or defensive players would be just what the Steelers need.
Brown is also due a $2.5 million roster bonus if he is on the team at the start of the new league year in roughly nine weeks. For a trade to happen, the Steelers would need to find a team that has cap space to absorb his contract. Various teams like the Indianapolis Colts, Jets, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, and San Francisco 49ers all have the space to accommodate Brown. George Kittle of the 49ers even reached out to Brown over Twitter, to which Brown re-posted on his own account. Brown also is following the 49ers Instagram account.
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 1, 2019
It has been a crazy end of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not a good kind of crazy either. After the Bell saga, the Steelers absolutely did not need Brown to go AWOL to end the season. It just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on his time in Pittsburgh. The Steelers need to reel in the drama in order to remain competitive. The three biggest noisemakers are Big Ben, Bell, and Brown. To get back to some normalcy, it likely means breaking up the Killer Bs. Bell won’t resign next season. Brown should be traded while the Steelers can get some good value. It will be a tough pill to swallow, but Pittsburgh has done this before. That’s why it should come as no surprise if Antonio Brown is traded in the weeks to come.
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