Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged Wednesday that a time could be near when All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is more of a distraction than he’s worth in Pittsburgh.
After walking out of Wednesday’s practice ahead of the 2018 regular-season finale, Brown was inactive — with knee discomfort — against the Bengals on Sunday. Tomlin did not deny that the perception could be reality, that Brown “quit” on the Steelers when the team needed a win (and Ravens loss) to continue their season.
NFL Network reported teammates doubted Brown’s knee injury claims. Tomlin, who admitted there was no MRI or X-ray on the knee, said he had no reason to doubt the wide receiver was hurt.
But the discord has since escalated.
“We’re talking about our darkest hour,” Tomlin said. “The guy not communicating is a very real element of discussion.”
Tomlin did not deny that there comes a point when a player could be more of a distraction than he’s worth. With three years left on his contract, Brown is owed $22 million for 2019. Trading him would bring a salary cap hit of more than $21 million.
Tomlin said Brown was supposed to report to the team facility Monday and did not show up. He denied Brown requested a trade, as CBS Sports reported Tuesday.
“I talked to him prior to the game on Sunday,” Tomlin said. “I have not talked to him since then. ... I’m not going to frame any expectation or conversation. I’m having conversations with a lot of people in terms of assessing what transpired. I will certainly talk to him.”
Tomlin said he plans to consult players for perspective on how to handle the ongoing drama with Brown. He said he would welcome good ideas from any corner of the organization.
When asked if Brown and Ben Roethlisberger had a confrontation during Wednesday’s practice, Tomlin didn’t hesitate.
“No,” Tomlin said. “...There’s disappointment. There’s no denying that.”
Tomlin said he “starts with the thumb” when he takes a step back to review the results of the season and any player concerns.
“Distractions and things of that nature are part of the job, particularly in today’s NFL. I don’t run away from it. In fact, I embrace it,” Tomlin said. “I don’t talk about it in the context of the season. Not that I like it, not that it’s enjoyable. It’s not. I’m not running. I’m certainly not seeking comfort in those things. When you’re good, you find ways to minimize them, overlook them.”
Tomlin said the Steelers are assessing and reviewing what happened in 2018, including Le’Veon Bell opting to sit for the entire season and Brown causing drama in the locker room.
“We’re going to pause before we start talking about development of 2019, and that includes any and all free agents for ‘19,” Tomlin said. “Don’t want to speculate a lot. If you’re legitimately open to doing what’s necessary to not be here (out of the playoffs) next year, then we don’t rule out anything.”
—Field Level Media