So what prompted Steelers receiver Antonio Brown to go AWOL, only days after having his best game of the season? Some are pointing to the internal vote that resulted in not Brown but receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster being named the team’s MVP for 2018.
The team announced that Smith-Schuster won the award on Thursday. Not Brown, who was in the discussion for NFL MVP in 2017 — and who won his franchise-record fourth team MVP award last year.
If the players learned about it on Wednesday, the outcome would help explain why Brown was feeling disrespected and unappreciated on the practice field, where he reportedly threw a football at Ben Roethlisberger and stormed out.
Simms and I have been batting around that theory throughout the week on PFT Live, and Albert Breer of SI.com cites an unnamed source in support of the notion that the MVP vote sparked the eruption.
“He was unreal in New Orleans, we still lost, and the vote comes out and it’s JuJu,” the unnamed source told Breer. “So [Brown] shows up for work, he’s not voted MVP, he’s in a bad way, and that carried over into the walkthrough.”
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports that Brown wanted to see whether the Steelers would thrive without him, and whether Smith-Schuster would perform at a high level without Brown on the field to draw attention away from the second-year player.
Thursday’s announcement, which came at a time when no one outside the organization knew about the latest Brown incident, sparked speculation that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be miffed about the snub. But the player most upset by the outcome apparently was Brown.
Again, the players vote for the MVP award. At a time when much has been said regarding whether the players would welcome Brown back, it’s fair to ask whether Brown wants to return. That’s a critically important question; how it’s resolved will go a long way toward determining how the relationship between Brown and the Steelers unfolds in 2019.