The Steelers have lost two of their best players this month, arguably due to their own mismanagement of the relationships with both players. To little surprise, then, owner Art Rooney II declined to address Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell in a Friday conference call with reporters.
“We are excited about the players we have and are going to have in the building, and are looking forward to getting started on the 2019 season,” Rooney said, via Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com.
Though the two key players who had been in the building have made for the exits, the issues that contributed to their departures potentially remain. As to Brown, the team allowed over a period of eight years a sixth-round pick from Central Michigan to parlay stellar performances and an unmatched on-field work ethic into doing whatever he wanted to do when it came to when he would show up for work. As to Bell, the team’s stubborn refusal to guarantee money beyond the first year of a long-term contract kept the player from swapping a one-year guaranteed franchise tender for a multi-year commitment and, ultimately, to choose to not play football at all in 2018. Regardless of how anyone feels about Bell’s decision and the contract he signed last week with the Jets, the Steelers — who paid Bell $12.1 million in 2017 and were willing to pay him $14.54 million in 2018 — would still have Bell under contract if they had been willing to offer Bell the sum of those two amounts, fully guaranteed, in 2017.
Rooney’s decision to conduct a conference call with reporters comes as owners and media prepare to descend on Arizona for the league’s annual meetings. Rooney possibly hopes that the over-the-phone Q&A will keep him from getting grilled by an in-person scrum. But whether it’s Rooney or coach Mike Tomlin or G.M. Kevin Colbert, plenty of questions remain regarding whether the Steelers will make changes as to how they will deal with future star players who the Steelers presumably would prefer to keep in black and gold.