It wasn't a surprise that Antonio Brown didn't play in the regular-season finale against the Bengals. What was surprising, however, was the real reason he wasn't active. Originally, the Steelers said the Pro Bowl receiver was struggling with a knee injury. Turns out, Brown had a midweek practice temper tantrum directed at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He went missing in the days before the game and by Sunday, he was on the sidelines in his civvies.
The altercation that led Antonio Brown's benching last week was with Ben Roethlisberger. Im told it was fairly ugly and the WR was totally in the wrong. He went AWOL essentially for the 3rd time this season dating back to training camp— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) December 31, 2018
On Tuesday, Roethlisberger made his weekly appearance on 93.7 The Fan to answer questions about the latest Browns-related drama. He called Brown "an incredible talent" and "one of my best friends on the team," and said that "If there was a blow-up [at practice], I sure didn't see it."
But there's this from ESPN's Jeremy Fowler:
A source close to the situation told ESPN's Adam Schefter that Brown was upset about being asked to run a hot read again during a walk-through and later told Roethlisberger he felt under appreciated.
Roethlisberger said he talked to Brown on Thursday morning and "everything was great," but there has been no contact since.
"I called and texted and reached out numerous times and tried to find out what going on," the quarterback said, "but I really couldn't get any answers."
And while Roethlisberger may consider things "great," Brown clearly does not. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports that Brown has requested a trade and that the wide receiver has issues with his quarterback and head coach Mike Tomlin.
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
This will undoubtedly come as news to Roethlisberger who was talking up Brown Tuesday morning.
"I am blessed to play with him," Big Ben said. "He's one of my closest friends on the team. AB and I have been together for a long time; I owe so much of my success to him and consider him a really close friend on the team. ... I know some (teammates) are frustrated. I think the biggest thing is guys tried to reach out to him and haven't heard back; that's what's frustrating to those guys."
He continued: "We want AB to play. He makes us all better. He had an amazing season this year. He makes me who I am. It's really just about (lack of) communication is the biggest thing for a lot of us."
That (lack of) communication appears to be getting worse, not better. And with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the frequent headaches Brown causes, would the Steelers be inclined to move on from him?
Maybe -- but here's the issue: The Steelers would be on the hook for $21.1 million in dead money if they cut or trade Brown. The team has until the fifth day of the league year, which begins in March, to come to a decision, or Brown earns an additional $2.5 million roster bonus.
A year ago, the Steelers had just gone 13-3 in the regular season and were enjoying a first-round bye. Their biggest offseason concern was re-signing Le'Veon Bell, which seems more likely to happen than not. Now, the team has missed the playoffs after a 7-2-1 start, Bell played his last game for Pittsburgh in last January's playoff loss to the Jaguars, and Brown may have played his last game for the team against the Saints two weeks ago.
The window, as they say, could be closed.