With the Steelers in turmoil and dealing with a trade request from receiver Antonio Brown and with coach Mike Tomlin mulling potential staff changes, sources said the team is still expecting to attempt to negotiate a new contract for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is entering the final year of his deal in 2019.
As a rule, the Steelers seek to extend head coaches and quarterbacks before the final year of their deal, and despite all the drama and issues between the Pro Bowl receiver and quarterback this season, that is very likely to remain the case. Ownership must still sort through this maze of issues, and there is a hope within the organization that, through mediation with the players, the situation could potentially improve.
Brown expressed his desire to play elsewhere shortly after the season, sources said, after essentially going AWOL from the team for the third time since training camp and being deactivated for the final game of the season in a must-win situation against the Bengals. Brown has become a figure of much animosity and concern within the locker room and team in general – similar to Le'Veon Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season rather than play on the franchise tag for a second-straight year.
However, Brown remains one of the most talented football players on the planet. He has contributed to great Steelers teams over the years and the Rooney family, as a rule, is not prone to capitulate to trade requests or demands. In this instance, sources said it is not out of the question a trade could be facilitated, and while much has been made of the $21M cap hit incurred by moving Brown, the Steelers could facilitate such a trade without it derailing their cap or payroll, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The Steelers will determine the extent of the damage done to these relationships over the coming weeks and assess how to proceed with the receiver. That is not expected to impact extension talks with Roethlisberger, who is coming off yet another strong season and who is under no threat to lose his job to 2018 third-round pick Mason Rudolph in the near future.
The relationship between Tomlin and first-time offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner – and that of Roethlisberger and Fichtner – have been under scrutiny within that organization for months, with many believing it may be too close on both parts. The Steelers had issues on both sides of the ball following a 7-2-1 start that appeared to put them in position to win the AFC North, and there are many there who believe Tomlin should make changes to his staff after this collapse.
Tomlin himself has been in no jeopardy whatsoever of losing his job, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, though he has been a focal point of fan and media attention in the wake of the team missing the playoffs. Ownership has not even considered a change of that magnitude, though it is also hard to see this entire staff returning as presently composed.
The Steelers have yet to have formal organizational meetings about their roster, with this season ending earlier than what they are normally accustomed to. Those meetings could begin by the end of next week at what point the Rooney family would provide more Direction on Brown's future. Art Rooney II has yet to meet with brown or general manager Kevin Colbert about this situation, and while many in the organization believe it is not likely they are granted approval to trade Brown in the near future, those discussions have yet to take place. The Steelers also are interested to see what tone Brown takes when he does speak to ownership about his trade request and whether or not things can be tamped down through conversations and meetings.