PITTSBURGH — The Steelers are “not closing any doors” on Antonio Brown‘s future but remain disappointed that they haven’t spoken to the All-Pro receiver since the season ended, according to team president Art Rooney II.
The team has not officially begun trade discussions involving Brown, who was benched in Week 17 for skipping a walk-through. Brown also had a flare-up with a teammate during the week. Asked whether Brown could return to the team if he shows contrition, Rooney said he’s open to options but added, “There aren’t many signs out there that that’s going to happen.”
“I’m not gonna sit here and disparage Antonio,” Rooney said during an interview with a group of local reporters Wednesday. “You have to remember he’s been one of the most productive receivers in the league for a long time now. He’s helped us win a lot of games over the last few years. Was it always done the way you’d like to see it done? No. But I don’t think he was a major distraction to the team up until the last weekend of the season. The proof is in the pudding for the most part.”
The lack of clarity and communication over what changed with Brown in Week 17 is concerning, Rooney said. Brown hasn’t publicly commented on his situation but has removed his team affiliation from his Twitter bio and is using social media to flirt with the San Francisco 49ers as a potential trade partner.
“I would have liked to have the opportunity to talk to him and understand where he is. Maybe that happens at some point,” Rooney said. “I’m very disappointed in where we are and what happened and don’t have a lot of good explanations for it as we sit here today.”
Brown took to Twitter again Wednesday, saying the Steelers “feel indifferent about me” and that he is keeping track of comments from the team, teammates and fans to “show me how they really feel!”
Clearly they feel indifferent about me seeing all these reports the big interview coming! watching my teammates, fans and organization show me how they really feel! Stay Woke https://t.co/CSHNsVI74Q
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 16, 2019
The wide receiver also addressed comments made by new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians on The Adam Schefter Podcast. The former Steelers offensive coordinator said Brown was acting too much like a “diva.”
He didn’t draft me he drafted @ESanders_10 same guy who missed rehab to go on networks to talk about me on situation he have zero clue! Arians now wears kangoo hats n glasses 😂 but ima diva! Done seen it all then they say we friends stop lien https://t.co/jALXyhQMAw
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 16, 2019
Rooney predicts discussions about Brown’s future to heat up around mid-March. The new league year opens March 13.
Brown’s status is far from the Steelers’ only major decision this offseason. The team can let All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell enter free agency or place a franchise or transition tag on him. Bell sat out the entire 2018 season, leverage earned by not signing his $14.5 million tender. Rooney said he was surprised by Bell’s decision to hold out — “how often does that happen in the NFL?” he asked — but no decision has been made about his future.
“That’s one of the situations we’ll have to evaluate what we do in the next few weeks,” he said.
Rooney was more definitive about Ben Roethlisberger. The team wants to extend the 36-year-old quarterback’s contract. Roethlisberger has one year left on his deal and led the NFL in passing yards last season with 5,129.
The Steelers don’t plan to make any more assistant coaching changes after failing to renew the contracts of running backs coach James Saxon and outside linebacker coach Joey Porter. The team promoted assistant offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett after Mike Munchak took a job with the Denver Broncos.
As for an extension for Mike Tomlin, which is usually done every two years, Rooney said, “those are things we get to later in the offseason. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Rooney II said he’s talked with Tomlin about the importance of having a staff member help with challenges and clock management. Tomlin has lost his last 10 challenges.
The Steelers (9-6-1) finished a half-game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
“I have to say when you miss the playoffs, nobody gets absolved — coaches, players, scouts, front office,” said Rooney about Tomlin’s performance in 2018. “Everybody knows we need to be better, including Mike. There are no disagreements in the organization about that.”
In the big picture, Rooney II doesn’t buy the notion that the Steelers are a ‘circus’ for the off-field storylines.
“I don’t know where it comes from. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nonsense,” Rooney II said. “We work hard to get to where we are. If you evaluate the season, we didn’t achieve our goal of winning the division but we finished a half-game (out) of winning the division. We had lots of opportunities to get there. It’s disappointing, but I’m not sure how that makes you a circus.”