Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he couldn't get in touch with Antonio Brown in the days leading up to their regular-season finale, which is why the star wide receiver wasn't active for the team's biggest game of the season. Perhaps Tomlin should've taken to Twitter to get Brown's attention.
Early Saturday morning, in response to the news that longtime NFL reporter and Hall of Fame voter Peter King removed Brown from his All-Pro ballot because he went missing in what Tomlin described as the team's "darkest hour," Brown tweeted: "System where you have no leverage."
On Friday, here's what King told Mike Florio during an appearance on "Pro Football Talk Live": "I thought about it, and I said, 'I can't in good conscience put a guy who took the equivalent of six percent of the season, and flushed it down the toilet when the Steelers were in a playoff implication game,'" he said.
Brown isn't completely without leverage. As it stands, he averages $17 million a season, which is second only to Odell Beckham among all receivers -- and Beckham signed his deal a year after Brown re-upped with the Steelers in 2017.
Brown could have also chosen not to sign that last contract extension, and instead played out the final year of his deal, or held out for more money -- even though that '17 deal made him the league's highest paid wideout.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported this week that Brown has requested -- but not demanded -- a trade and that the wide receiver has issues with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Tomlin.
On Wednesday, during his final press conference of the 2018 season, Tomlin told reporters that there had been no formal trade request but conceded that "lack of communication" was a key factor in the series of events that led to Brown not playing against the Bengals. When asked if Brown quit on his team, Tomlin said, " ."
When a player hasn't quit on his team, a coach doesn't tell you to "call it what you want." And perhaps that's why the Steelers would consider moving on from Brown, even with a $21.2 million salary-cap hit. On Saturday, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports that the team is expected to consider trade requests for Brown prior to the start of free agency.
According to Spotrac, a trade prior to March 17, would lead to the aforementioned $21.2 million cap hit in 2019 but it would lead to a 2019 cap savings of $1.05 million.
Also worth considering: Brown has 74 touchdown receptions in nine NFL seasons, almost all courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger. If Brown isn't happy with his role in Pittsburgh, where this team hasn't had a losing season since 2003, how's he going to respond should he be traded to, say, the Jets or Bills or Cardinals?
At 30, Brown is still one of the league's best players. But he's doing himself no favors by bailing on his team in one of their biggest games of the season. And there will be market for him, without question. The biggest issues to sort out: Will the Steelers be willing to take the cap hit to move on from a game-changing talent, and if so, what kind of compensation can they get for him?