The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the NFL’s smartest franchises. Antonio Brown can tweet all he wants, but that won’t force their hand.
Antonio Brown wants out. The Pittsburgh Steelers will circle back later.
On Tuesday, Brown tweeted a farewell video to the team and its fanbase, thanking them for nine great years. The implication was obvious: Trade me. Release me. Get me out of here.
In response, the team offered radio silence. No statements. No cryptic tweets. This is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In recent seasons, the Steelers have been defined by drama. Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin and Brown are always contributing to the soap opera. However, the front office and ownership remains the picture of stoicism. The faces of the franchise might be loud, but the upper crust is sound fury.
Now, with their All-Pro receiver demanding to be moved, the Steelers are facing a defining moment.
Pittsburgh can release Brown at any time, but that’s not happening. The team can’t trade him until the new league year begins on March 13. Four days later, Brown is due a $2.5 million roster bonus. Should the Steelers move him prior to that date, they absorb a dead cap hit of $21.12 million. After the 17th, and they take on $23.67 million.
With three years and $39 million in base salary left on his contract, it makes no financial sense to trade the 30-year-old.
However, his discontentment is evident, and so is the unraveling of his chaotic life. In the past 10 months, Brown has threatened an ESPN reporter, been alleged to throw furniture off a 14th floor balcony, quit on the team in Week 17 before leaving that game at halftime. Last week, Brown was accused of domestic violence. On Tuesday, Brown was convicted of reckless driving after going 100 MPH in a 30 MPH zone back in November.
Dealing Brown would be a salary cap nightmare, but might relieve what has become a never-ending tension headache for the Steelers. The offense would still be able to operate smoothly with Roethlisberger, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and an elite offensive line. The draft picks acquired in any Brown trade could help supplement a defense that desperately needs a talent infusion.
Still, this will be done on the team’s time. The Rooney family and general manager Kevin Colbert will certainly field offers and negotiate, but if a proposal is light on assets, it won’t go through. The Steelers, unlike so many franchises that feign strength when they are actually mentally weak, won’t acquiesce to pressure and the demands of a player signed through 2021.
Brown has thrown down the gauntlet. The Steelers aren’t fretting it.