The tumult between disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown and the Steelers has only continued to grow, with Brown recently reiterating his trade demands via agent Drew Rosenhaus, sources said. Meanwhile, the Steelers continue to plan for a transition tag for running back Le'Veon Bell, who skipped all of last season, and have reached out to the agent for injured linebacker Ryan Shazier about a new one-year deal, sources said.
The latest series of negative interactions with Brown, a potential future Hall of Famer, have only served to quash the already fleeting feeling within the organization that some compromise could be reached. While a trade has long looked like the most likely outcome, several people who has been on contact with owner Art Rooney II said that ownership was in no hurry to facilitate trade talks in the event Brown might soften his stance and express contrition for his recent actions. If anything, the situation has only further deteriorated since the end of the regular season.
Brown has refused to return calls from Rooney and several others in the organization and has been telling Steelers teammates for weeks that he does not intend to ever play for the team again. Brown drew ire within the organization for skipping out on mandatory duties leading up to a must-win Week 17 game and being deactivated by coach Mike Tomlin because of it.
The Steelers have tolerated unusual behavior from Brown in the past, including failing to show up for meetings or required work days in the past and leaving training camp for a spell back in the summer as well. But things reached a head in Week 17, with the season on the line, and now his departure seems imminent, sources said.
With three years and just $39M left on his contract, Brown's contract would facilitate any trade, and the Steelers expect to talk to other teams in a few weeks at the scouting combine. There is no immediate rush to do a deal before then, and they remain hopeful of landing first-round value for him. They want to deal him out of the AFC and would not consider any trades with their biggest rivals, I'm told.
The Steelers have no intention of granting Brown permission to pursue a trade on his own, sources said, and the team will be controlling this process. Given the term remaining on Brown's contract, there is no need for any restructuring or extensions. Brown has made it clear the 49ers would be his preference and that is certainly a possibility, but there will be no shortage of interested teams given his contract and superior productivity.
Bell's relationship with the Steelers spoiled in 2018, with him staying away the entire season after being franchised for a second straight year. The Steelers were advised by the NFL Management Council that they can utilize another tag on the running back in 2019, sources said, and the transition tag remains a quite likely scenario. That would be the precursor to an eventual trade, with the Jets and Eagles potential landing spots.
Shazier has not played since suffering a likely career-ending neck injury in 2017, but has remained very close to the team since then. He was around them all of last season, helping work with the players, and has kept alive his dream of playing football again, however unlikely it may be. The Steelers have already contacted his agent about working out a new deal, with his rookie contract expired, and that process will not take long.