As Antonio Brown tries to talk his way out of Pittsburgh, he’s also potentially talking his way out of other possible NFL cities before he even arrives. Which could set the stage for a fight between player and team that will make the Eagles vs. T.O. look like a mild dinner-table disagreement.
Although Brown has largely curtailed his social-media agitation since Mr. Big Chest met with the Steelers’ Mr. Big, Brown’s comments on HBO’s The Shop coupled with his remarks to ESPN will make it harder, not easier, for the Steelers to find a trade partner. Which will make it more likely that the Steelers eventually will give Brown the “play for us or play for no one” ultimatum, based by the leverage that comes from $11.4 million in unearned signing bonus money that Brown, if he chooses not to play for the Steelers, would have to repay.
Brown nevertheless seems to be confident that the Steelers will take the best trade offer, from a team he finds suitable, that’s on the table before Brown’s $2.5 million roster bonus becomes due on March 17.
“Why wouldn’t they not trade me?” Brown told ESPN. “They gotta pay me $2.5 million on March 17. If I invoice you March 17, $2.5 million that you gotta pay me, would you pay it or would you get somebody else to pay it? So it’s what — pretty much what’s good for their business. . . . They want to start a fresh offseason with no bad blood so their team could just focus on football. No distraction from any player. So I think they’ll get it done.”
Although Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert told PFT Live this week that the team could pay the money and still trade Brown later, the Steelers could pursue other strategies. They could suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team, place him on the reserve/suspended list, take the position that he’s not on the roster, and refuse to pay the money. They also could regard his comments about wanting out of Pittsburgh coupled with his remarks about not needing football as an indication that he intends to retire absent a trade, and they can place him on the reserve/retired list, forcing him to file a grievance based on the argument that he actually isn’t retired, and that he’s committed to playing for the Steelers.
Or they could just pay the money and use it as added leverage to compel him to show up and play for the Steelers this year, since the $2.5 million would be added to the $11.4 million that he already has received but not earned.
Brown seems to be banking on the team’s desire to turn the page on a potential distraction, and thus he’s willing to make as much of a distraction as possible in order to get the Steelers to move on, even if he resents being regarded as a distraction. Unless the planets align before March 17, with a team for which Brown is willing to play giving the Steelers what they want and giving Brown what he wants and being willing to assume the risk that a guy who says “if they wanna play, they going to play by my rules” means what he says, the Steelers will have to decide whether to pay Brown the money and keep trying to trade him or pay Brown the money and ultimately keep him, even if he doesn’t want to stay, with a plan to embrace the distraction and use the $13.9 million in unearned pay as leverage to get him to realize how good he has it and move forward.
However it plays out, Brown is openly daring the Steelers to play hardball. At some point, maybe they will.