The Steelers bad end to 2018 is spilling right over into the new year thanks to the Antonio Brown drama unfolding in Pittsburgh. The Ravens made it pointless by beating the Browns, but the Steelers managed to beat the Bengals even with Brown inactive with what we thought was a knee injury. Turns out, and from CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, Brown basically went AWOL from the team and was a healthy scratch.
On New Year's Eve, former Steelers safety and ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark joined Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter to break down the situation. And he did not hold back on Brown, saying Brown has always "been a 'me' guy" and calling him "self-centered."
"Not surprised that there's beef, not surprised that there's issues. Antonio has been a guy who's been a "me" guy, he's been a guy that's self-centered in a way that he's concerned with the individual stats, how I'm being treated, I'm being perceived or portrayed. But the one person you can't have him fighting with is Ben Roethlisberger," Clark said. "There are many players in that organization that Antonio Brown is above. Ben is not one of those people. For it to get to a point where he's held out of this game, a must-win for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"When you see him on the sideline in a mink coat before the game -- not Pittsburgh Steelers gear, not sideline gear, totally separate from team that lets you know that this is an issue that's not only about today or yesterday but it's been something that's happening throughout the year and his career."
As the discussion with Van Pelt continued, Clark told a story from 2012, Brown's third year, when the Steelers gave him a contract. Clark was a veteran on the team that season and Brown was a budding young star.
Brown had not yet been paid by the Steelers and had just a single 1,000-yard season under his belt. When Mike Wallace declined to sign a contract from Pittsburgh, the Steelers approached Brown about taking a deal. He did and, according to Clark, it changed him.
"Quick story: Antonio Brown is walking past the weight room in training camp [in 2012]. And right now we hear Mike Wallace has turned down his deal. Antonio is going into his third year. You hear Mike Wallace has turned down his deal. I knew already that they were going to offer Antonio," Clark recalled. "He's walking past, and I turned to the strength coach and I said 'if you give him money, you're going to create a monster.' That day at practice Antonio and I almost get into a fight because he's saying things to Coach LeBeau. He's screaming at Coach LeBeau, he's screaming at us defensively. 'Don't touch me, I'm the franchise,' this and that.
"Because he already had that mindset and now with success, with money, these things come."
Clark also referenced other stories and issues with Brown that he declined to elaborate on in the conversation with Van Pelt. But he made it very clear that he thinks Antonio Brown cares only about one thing: Antonio Brown.
"You hear more about him, some things that we don't need to bring up now. But when it comes to being a good teammate, when it comes to being supportive, understanding that you're trying to achieve one goal," Clark explained. "That doesn't matter to him. What matters to him is 19 attempts, 14 catches, 185 yards, two touchdown receptions. That's what's important to Antonio Brown."
Brown is definitely a diva wide receiver. That doesn't make him unique though. Odell Beckham qualifies as one too. Randy Moss was a diva wide receiver. So was Terrell Owens. Both guys are Hall of Fame wideouts and Brown/Beckham will probably be in Canton one day as well.
But right now, the Steelers are watching other teams play in the playoffs while sitting at home dealing with a bunch of drama surrounding Brown, who wasn't on the field for the team's final game. With JuJu Smith-Schuster emerging as a better long-term option -- JuJu is just 22, Brown is 31 and did show signs of slowing down at points in 2018 -- the Steelers might very well consider the idea that they could be better off without Brown.
His contract isn't something they could cut since he would only save about a million in cap space. But with other young threats on the roster like James Washington, the Steelers might at least consider the possibility of a trade should the drama continue this offseason.
This story is not going to disappear any time soon.