John Steigerwald: Antonio Brown made a fool of the Steelers
He played the Steelers like a fiddle.
Then he beat them like a drum. What was the deciding factor? Was it the blue hair and the blond mustache? Or was it the videos he appeared in with the blue hair and the ‘stache, speaking semi-coherently and looking like he was incoherent?
Maybe Antonio Brown didn’t need to do any of that. Maybe it was overkill. Maybe quitting on his team before the last game of the season with a playoff spot on the line was enough to convince general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin they never wanted to see him in a Steelers uniform again.
Or was it Art Rooney II who wanted Brown out of town at any cost? The Steelers got a third- and fifth-round pick in this year’s draft from the Oakland Raiders in a trade agreed upon early Sunday, and Brown got $39 million in guaranteed money. The Steelers also got their butts kicked.
According to some reports, the Buffalo Bills offered a swap of first-round picks — No. 9 overall for the Steelers’ 20th — plus more compensation, but Brown said no.
Brown said no?
That’s when the Steelers had to know they lost the battle, but they actually lost it Dec. 30, when they allowed Brown to show up on the sidelines during a game against the Bengals wearing a mink coat.
He should have been told not to show up, and he should have been told not to expect his game check. Maybe the NFLPA would have put up a fight and won, but the Steelers would have sent the first message.
The second message should have been sent to Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. They should have been told the Steelers would try to trade Brown, but under no circumstances will the team accept anything less than a first-rounder in return.
In discussions with the media, Colbert and Rooney should have made it clear they were holding all the cards. They should have gone out of their way to tell the other 31 NFL teams any trade discussion would have to start with at least a first-rounder.
Of course, that would only make sense if they also told Brown and Rosenhaus they weren’t going to renegotiate his contract, and that if they didn’t get what they wanted in a trade, Brown would have two choices: show up and get paid, or sit and don’t.
Brown made an idiot of himself on video for more than two months. He also said he wanted more guaranteed money. That, of course, reduced his trade value.
The Steelers should have told Brown unless a team offered a No. 1, he should plan on reporting to minicamp and playing for the Steelers if he wanted to get paid.
Instead, the Steelers caved, and that rendered every current and future Steelers player’s contract meaningless. If a star player becomes unhappy and doesn’t like the idea of being tied to playing in Pittsburgh, all he needs to do is walk out on the team, dye his hair blue and make an idiot of himself on Twitter and Instagram. Brown showed them all how to become a quasi free agent.
The Steelers showed they were not willing to take the cards they were holding and walk away. That’s when they lost.
Maybe the third- and fifth-round picks will turn out to be productive players. Hines Ward and Joey Porter were third-rounders. But so were Dri Archer and Sammie Coates.
The guy who should really be feeling bad now is Le’Veon Bell. He made the big mistake of waiting until he could be tagged a franchise player before walking away from $16 million.
Imagine what he might have gotten if he dyed his hair blue.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.