Monday was a busy day for the Steelers for all the wrong reasons. On Sunday, they missed the playoffs after a 7-2-1 start. And while they beat the Bengals in Week 17, it was a sluggish effort perhaps in part because one of their best players, Antonio Brown, was sidelined with a knee injury.
At least that was what the Steelers told people before the game; turns out, thanks to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac, the team benched Brown after a midweek practice blowup with a teammate. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora identified that teammate as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Brown then went missing and by Sunday, the Steelers decided to make him inactive.
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
As La Canfora notes, drama is nothing new with Brown; he's acted out this season and in previous seasons.
Kittle is one of the best tight ends in football; he finished the season with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Brown is apparently aware of Kittle's talents because he responded 25 minutes later with this:
You can take this two ways. One, Brown respects Kittle's game, and that fully explains the starstruck emoji. Two, Brown respects Kittle's game and in light of recent events would love to play with him in San Francisco.
Remember: Back in Week 2, cameras caught Brown in a heated discussion with offensive coordinator Randy Fitchtner. A day later, in response to a tweet from a former Steelers' PR staffer that said, "[Brown] needs to thank his lucky stars, because he was drafted by a team that had Ben," Brown responded "Trade me, let's find out."
As you might imagine, that got people's attention. And so too did this: Brown didn't show up for work the Monday after the Chiefs' game and while his agent said it was a personal matter, coach Mike Tomlin sounded like he had no idea why Brown went missing during his weekly press conference.
So with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the frequent headaches Brown causes, would the Steelers be inclined to move on from the Pro Bowl wideout?
Maybe -- but here's the issue: As PFT points out, 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 a $2.5 million roster bonus.
It's hard to know if Brown wants out of Pittsburgh or if he's just blowing off steam. Either way, Tomlin's team melted down over the final six weeks of the season and this seems like a fitting end to a disappointing campaign. It's also worth noting: If Brown is frustrated with what's happening in Pittsburgh how long would he last in San Francisco, where the team lost Jimmy Garoppolo two weeks into the season and he was replaced by C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. And if Brown's problems stem in any way from the Smith-Schuster's increased role, how would he respond to Kittle getting a good chunk of the targets in the 49ers' offense?