Brown issue is Steelers’ top priority

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — Is this any way to run a football team?

That’s the question Steelers owner Art Rooney II must confront as he holds meetings to determine why the Steelers aren’t in the playoffs and what they must do to correct that situation.

Since the season ended on Sunday, it has come to light that receiver Antonio Brown blew off meetings and practices late last week. When he showed up to play on Sunday against Cincinnati, he was apparently told he wouldn’t be suiting up.

Let’s remember something here: The Steelers were not playing out the string in their last game of the season. They still had a chance to make the playoffs.

The Bengals may not have been the most formidable opponent, but the game wound up being decided by a field goal. The passing game struggled without Brown.

For the faults he has and the drama he creates, Brown is still one of the NFL’s most skilled receivers.

While the question of what happened is being sorted out, the real issue is what happens now?

Do the Steelers try to part company with Brown? Releasing him would make a big negative impact on their salary cap number, so that doesn’t seem to be a realistic option. Trade him? They won’t get anything close to value for him because every other team knows about the significant baggage that Brown carries.

Brown likes attention, and he’s not the only NFL player who does. Some of the stuff he does is harmless, like this year’s entry to training camp in a helicopter. Same thing when he brings his kids to sit at the podium for a postgame press conference.

But when you broadcast on Facebook Live from the locker room during a coach’s postgame talk with the team, you’ve betrayed teammates. When you skip practices, you bail out on the team.

The hard cases would demand that Mike Tomlin sit Brown out of games to show him who’s boss. Tomlin did that Sunday, and the Steelers came within three points of losing a game they had to win.

There’s no easy answer here. Get rid of Brown and the Steelers might not finish as high as this year’s second place. Keep him, and risk further self-centered shenanigans which have already worn thin with the rest of the team.

Can Tomlin reason with him? Or is Brown so deeply into himself that it’s impossible for him to see the foolishness of his ways? Would Rooney hold Tomlin responsible for Brown’s behavior? Or does he recognize that there are players who are consistently a huge pain in the neck? The Steelers have had them before.

A lesser player would be gone. The Steelers showed that in 2008 when they almost instantly cut backup receiver Cedrick Wilson after he was accused of domestic violence.

Antonio Brown isn’t Cedrick Wilson. The Steelers have a star player who is also a royal pain.

What they do about this will be the first big decision in an offseason that figures to be filled with them.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.

COMMENTS