Monday’s leak by the Steelers to the league-owned media conglomerate was no accident. The word is out that the team is getting flustered with receiver Antonio Brown. And it’s all happening at an ideal time.
The latest piece of evidence comes from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who writes in a recap of the team’s objectives for 2017 that “Brown’s antics are wearing thin on some of his teammates and certainly his coaches.”
The criticisms of Brown, which he may think are a media creation but clearly trace back to the Steelers, come as he enters the final year of a contract that he has wanted the team to rip up for two years. Instead, they have moved money around in 2015 and 2016, with the understanding that his next big contract will come in 2017.
They’ll surely offer him one, but there’s nothing like a little psychological warfare to soften his expectations. By creating the impression that they’re not happy with Brown, who remains one of the best receivers in the game, they may be able to lock him up for a lot less than he otherwise would want. Indeed, between the Facebook Live fiasco and the notion that he cares too much about stats and was pouting during the Patriots game, the Steelers ultimately could secure his services over the next several years for millions less than they otherwise would have paid.
Or they can sell high, if another team takes the bait (intended or not) and calls to inquire about a possible trade.
Either way, the Steelers didn’t become one of the most successful franchises in football by being dumb. By making their concerns about Brown known to the media and the fans — and to Brown — they’re softening him up to be happy to take their top-dollar offer, even if it’s far less than what he would have liked.