Steelers receiver Antonio Brown seems to be using social media to get what he wants: A one-way ticket out of town. And so the question becomes whether the Steelers will tolerate his strategy quietly, or whether they will push back.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows a team to fine a player up to four week’s salary and/or to suspend him for a period not to exceed four weeks. The language of the labor deal implies that a suspension would apply only to behavior that occurs within the confines of football season, at the very earliest when training camp begins.
The question becomes whether a team can impose a four-week suspension effective Week One for misconduct occurring now, in the offseason. It would be new territory for the NFL and the NFL Players Association, but it’s becoming undeniable that Brown is engaged in conduct detrimental to the Steelers, because he’s obviously being disruptive to key relationships (including with his coach and with his quarterback) in an effort to force his way out.
Taking action now would represent an extremely aggressive interpretation of the CBA, but nothing stops the Steelers from giving it a try. If the Steelers were to suspend Brown now, effective Week One, the issue would likely be resolved via a grievance well before Week One.
In the interim, the Steelers would be sending a clear message to Brown regarding the team’s willingness to tolerate his behavior. Coupled with a meeting between Brown and owner Art Rooney II during which Rooney would tell Brown that he’ll play for the Steelers or no one, that could be the thing that gets Brown to realize that, if he hopes to continue to play professional football, he’ll submit to the will of the Steelers and accept the fact that he’ll remain in Pittsburgh, at least for three more seasons.
It’s a strategy that carries real risk. Brown may call the team’s bluff, forcing the team to allow a distraction to become even bigger than it is. The Steelers need to ask themselves how aggressively they’re willing to push it, balancing short-term team harmony against the long-term importance of ensuring that players at all times will submit to the will of the entity that pays them to play football.