Mark Madden: Steelers must excise destructive Antonio Brown
Owner/president Art Rooney said it would be “hard to envision” Antonio Brown at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.
That sounds like a one-way ticket to Palookaville, even though the Steelers would have to absorb a $21.1 million cap hit if they Brown. But if a bum tooth hurts bad enough, you get it yanked even if your dental insurance stinks.
The Steelers won’t get equal return for Brown. He will fetch a late first-round pick at best, more likely a second-round pick.
Every team thinks it can fix a problem: “It’ll be different here.”
But Brown should make even the most cockeyed of optimists tread lightly, and with good reason. He will behave the same wherever he goes. But at his next stop, Brown won’t have the cachet he built up during his nine seasons in Pittsburgh. The citizens will be quicker to anger, especially if Brown, at 30, sees his play decline sooner, not later.
It’s absurd when it’s said that the Steelers, or Rooney, or coach Mike Tomlin, or team leadership “let” Brown act as he has. He’s a grown man. He’s responsible, period.
Brown would have operated the same if Chuck Noll was coaching. (The situation would have come to a head much earlier.)
Here’s hoping Brown goes to New York. Brown’s shenanigans + New York’s usual lack of patience and tact=slapstick that could dwarf what happened in Pittsburgh.
Rooney left himself one minuscule out regarding Brown’s likely departure: He said he would speak to some of the team’s leaders about the situation.
What those leaders really think would be interesting. Especially quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
On one hand, Brown has been Roethlisberger’s top target for six years.
On the other hand, Brown has been an excruciating headache for Roethlisberger almost every day of those six years. The animosity between the two spilled over in that Dec. 26 practice. Roethlisberger chastised Brown for running a bad route. Brown fired a ball at Roethlisberger, walked out and wasn’t seen or heard from for three days.
That was that play’s denouement, not it’s first act. A quarterback throws to the open receiver. But Brown thinks he’s always open. He whines nonstop when he doesn’t get the ball. It’s about him, period.
Playing sports for a living is hard work. But it also is supposed to be fun and not just for Brown.
What does center Maurkice Pouncey think? Pouncey is perhaps the locker room’s No. 1 compass. He has often taken Brown’s part, even (and especially) in times of controversy. Brown hasn’t returned his phone calls. (Or Rooney’s. Or Tomlin’s. Or anybody’s. Further proof of Brown’s self-importance and maturity inadequate to deal with this situation.)
The Steelers’ younger players might see Brown as an example to be followed given his success, flash and charisma. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s burgeoning ego and penchant for the camera have him pointed in that direction. Nipping that in the bud is advisable because the Steelers need Smith-Schuster to produce long after Brown departs.
It’s beyond debate. Brown has to go. He doesn’t want to change and won’t. Any promises he makes will be empty. This year’s turmoil would repeat and worse. The infection would spread. No athlete ever has run roughshod over a team the way Brown has trampled the Steelers.
The Steelers need to change their culture. That can’t happen if Brown returns. (Unfortunately, it probably can’t happen if Tomlin returns.)
It’s time to yank that bum tooth.
Brown leaves a Hall of Fame legacy in Pittsburgh. His stats don’t lie. (He leaves without a ring. That doesn’t lie, either.)
But this is what I’ll remember most about Brown:
When the Steelers lost 33-30 to the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 2, Brown had 10 catches for 154 yards. Afterward, he took the podium to address the media accompanied by several of his kids, and he positively was beaming. The Steelers had blown a 16-point lead at home but no matter: Brown had excelled.
When the Steelers beat the New England Patriots, 17-10, on Dec. 16, Brown had four catches for 49 yards. He tried to duck the media, speaking reluctantly and brusquely. The Steelers had a rare victory over their nemesis, but Brown didn’t get his.
If you got a gold jacket for selfishness and narcissism, Brown’s closet would have 24-karat coat hangers.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on 105.9 FM.