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.