As the Steelers and receiver Antonio Brown careen toward a divorce, it’s becoming more clear how the relationship reached an apparent point of no return.
A new article from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, which strings together much of the popcorn that has been flying out of the metal kettle in recent weeks, paints a picture of a player who routinely lived by his own set of rules — and a team that allowed it.
The most stunning example comes from a previously-unknown double standard that has applied to Brown during training camp. While teammates were crammed into dorm rooms, Brown has had an off-campus rental house.
Per Fowler, Brown would be seen getting dropped off at training camp in the mornings, knowing full well he wasn’t sleeping in the dorm with the rest of the team.
“We even admired him for it, like, ‘How does he pull that off?'” a former Steelers teammates told Fowler.
Brown also pulled off the chronic ability to show up late for meetings, with only periodic fines from coach Mike Tomlin for it.
“Tomlin basically could have fined A.B. every day if he wanted to,” an ex-teammate told Fowler.
“He shows up late with a big smile on his face,” former teammate Doug Legursky told Fowler. “You’re not even mad.”
Another current teammate is mad that it’s an issue. “[W]ho gives a f–k if he’s 15 minutes late to a meeting?” the unnamed teammate told Fowler.
And the tardiness issue doesn’t apply only to meetings during the week. Consider this passage from Fowler’s article: “On game days, players marveled at Brown showing up uncomfortably close to kickoff, rocking a mink coat while other players were in full uniform, and then having 150 yards receiving by the fourth quarter.”
Beyond not regularly taking small amounts of money from Brown in an effort to express ongoing displeasure with his behavior, the Steelers on multiple occasions have given Brown large amounts of money which necessarily rewards it. From the first major contract he received in 2012 (after only two NFL seasons, since he was drafted before the minimum waiting period moved to three years) to multiple annual adjustments aimed at pushing future money forward to a major extension given to him only two years ago, which included a $19 million signing bonus in 2017 plus another lump sum of $12.96 million in 2018.
Adding his 2017 and 2018 salaries, that’s nearly $34 million handed to Brown in the aftermath of Brown crossed a bright line by broadcasting on Facebook Live from the locker room after a playoff win.
Balance against that are periodic taps of the hand and a private articulation by Tomlin of the standard that essentially applies to all players: When he’s no longer worth what we’re paying him, he’ll be gone.
He’s still worth it as a player. But the bridge has been burned because Brown, emboldened by years of enabling, reacted strongly when the team apparently (and belatedly) decided to try to rein him in.
Like Tom Brady, Brown entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick. Unlike Brady, the Steelers became so infatuated with Brown’s unexpected abilities that they allowed Brown to exercise liberties at a time when he would have reacted far less aggressively than he is now. Ultimately, then, the Steelers have only themselves to blame for the mess in which they now find themselves.