Why Antonio Brown doesn’t deserve to be an NFL All Pro

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Last Monday, when I sat down to finalize my all-pro team for the Associated Press (I am one of the 50 media voters for the annual team), I typed in DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown as my two wide receivers, with Tyreek Hill as my “flex” player. (Because so many teams now play more than two receivers on the majority of plays, or maybe an all-purpose player like Tarik Cohen, the AP gives voters a chance to pick a third offensive skill player.) The receiver position was exceedingly hard, with Michael Thomas (league-high 125 catches), Julio Jones (league-high 1,677 yards), Adam Thielen (eight straight 100-yard receiving games), Davante Adams and several others in the running. There is no position on the field with such depth today. Ballots were due Wednesday at noon. I emailed mine Monday evening.

On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story of Brown missing Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cincinnati NOT because of an injury was gaining steam. As the newspaper reported, it was apparent that Brown was not injured—at least not to the point where it would have kept him from playing. He went AWOL, apparently, because of a snit. He didn’t practice Wednesday (getting a so-called vets’ day off), didn’t practice Thursday or Friday, couldn’t be reached by coach Mike Tomlin (according to Tomlin), skipped Saturday’s walk-through and Saturday night meetings. Tomlin said Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, called Sunday morning to say Brown would be there for the game and ready to play. Tomlin said he told Rosenhaus that Brown wouldn’t be playing. The agent called the coach. Not Brown.

The Steelers had to win and Baltimore had to lose Sunday to have a chance to make the playoffs. As it turned out, the Steelers barely had enough offense to win, 16-13. Baltimore won narrowly. Then Brown skipped end-of-season meetings Monday.

The more I thought about it, the more disgusted I got. There might be some slightly contrarian evidence, but there’s not much debate that Brown petulantly missed multiple practices prior to a game with major playoff implications, a game he could have and almost certainly would have influenced. I could not in good conscience vote for a person who went AWOL for a game of such magnitude. So I erased Brown, typed in Thomas of the Saints, and re-filed my ballot to the AP.

Some of you may think that it’s just one of 16 games, and he did enough in 15 games (a league-best 15 touchdowns, with just one drop in 164 targets) to be all-pro. That’s not how I see it. Brown’s actions sidelined him for 6.25 percent of the Steelers’ season. While guys like T.Y. Hilton and Tyreek Hill played through significant pain in games with major playoff implications down the stretch, Brown went AWOL. Someone else can vote for him. I’m not. I wouldn’t vote for him if the all-pro team were 20 receivers deep this year, though clearly he’s a top-five receiver. He disqualified himself for consideration for anything this year by his actions of Week 17.

Compare this to Kyrie Irving disappearing for five games without telling his team anything; that’s 6 percent of an NBA season. Or Sidney Crosby disappearing for five games of the NHL season. Or Mike Trout taking off, unannounced, for 10 games of the baseball season. Those are all 6 percent of their teams’ seasons. That would be unacceptable. At least it would be to me. I wouldn’t pick any of those players, under those circumstances, for all-league honors or for any honor, no matter how great they had been in the other 94 percent of their season, if they went AWOL the way Brown did.

As for the future, the Steelers have time to let the situation cool off. The start of the 2019 league year is nine weeks away (March 13). I’d let this thing simmer down. In mid-February, Mike Tomlin could quietly meet Brown in some private place in Florida and they could have the face-to-face they’re going to need to have if this relationship can be salvaged. It’s worth salvaging; Brown, 30, is a dominant and affordable player, at $38.9 million over the next three years. But if he won’t agree to Tomlin’s way, all the way, Brown should be traded.

Who would trade for him? I’ll give you possibilities: Oakland (with four first-round picks in the next two drafts and a coach who won’t fear the distraction), Carolina (though the Panthers have spent profusely on Cam Newton weapons, here’s one that could make the Panthers two or three wins better); San Francisco (all-world young tight end, but just an okay receiving corps); and the Jets. An idea? Jets trade Robbie Anderson and a second-round pick to the Steelers for Brown. Jets sign Le’Veon Bell. And the (Steelers East) Jets finally have the weapons to be a potent NFL offense for the next two or three years.

But there’s no hurry. This should simmer for six weeks. Heads should cool. If Brown can be salvaged, and he can be a team guy in 2019, that gives next year’s Steelers the best chance to play deep into the postseason. If not, he’s got to go.


Finally, after I made my views public Friday, some conflated my view on Brown with my view from four years ago of the right of Darren Sharper, a member of the 2000s NFL all-decade team now imprisoned for multiple sexual assaults, to be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I never voted for Sharper to be enshrined. (I have said this 67 times over the past four years, but it continues to have life from people who either can’t read or who have some other motive for purposely misstating what I’ve said on Sharper.) My view on this remains that every player has the right to be considered for the Hall, because the criteria for enshrinement mandate that voters consider only a player’s career on the field, and what impacts that career on the field.

I told the Brown/AP story to Mike Florio on his “PFT Live” show on NBC Sports Network on Friday morning—not to puff my chest out and say, “See what I did to Antonio Brown?” I’ve been transparent on things like all-pro voting and the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting, and this was such a unique story that I felt I should tell it.

As always, your opinions are welcome. 

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NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

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Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

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