Written by: Ryan Lippert
As we have seen in the media for a couple months now, the relationship between Antonio Brown and the Steelers has taken an unfortunate turn for the worst. A timeline of unfortunate events since the final week of the 2019 regular season has led to an extremely likely departure of Brown via trade. With Brown likely seeing his last days in the black and yellow, I wanted to take a look back to his rise and fall as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Underdog to All-Pro
Antonio Brown was selected in the 6th round (195th overall) by the Steelers out of Central Michigan in the 2010 NFL Draft. He came into a situation where he would be used very lightly as a rookie as he was behind a Steelers great, Hines Ward, and an outstanding wide receiver at the time in Mike Wallace. As a rookie, Brown worked hard and found himself a little bit of playing time in the rotation and return game, finishing with 16 receptions for 167 yards, along with 110 yards as a returner.
Brown really started to find his role in his second season. He was still the #3 receiver behind Wallace and Ward but he found a way to shine. He finished with 69 receptions for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns, along with 325 yards and a touchdown as a returner, earning him his first Pro Bowl invitation. AB had one more year behind Wallace in 2012, but then Wallace left the Steelers to pursue a bigger contract with the Miami Dolphins.
With Wallace out of the picture, it was now time for Antonio Brown to become a star. He excelled in his first year as the main target, finishing with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 409 yards and a touchdown as a returner on his way to his second Pro Bowl appearance. Since then, his career has been of legendary status. He has been arguably the best receiver in the league since 2014. Brown led the NFL in receiving yards in 2014 and 2017, touchdowns in 2018, and receptions in 2014 and 2015. Along with that, he has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, is a four-time All-Pro selection, and was voted as the #2 player in the league by NFL Network in 2018. With all of those accolades considered, Brown is easily in the conversation as one of the best receivers to ever wear the Pittsburgh uniform.
The Quick Fallout
With all of the statistics considered, along with his work ethic and bright personality, you could’ve never convinced me that Antonio Brown would leave the Steelers any time soon. Unfortunately, I would be proven wrong as things started to escalate this past season. As Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the game, he receives a lot of attention, mostly in the form of double teams from opposing secondaries. All of this added attention opened the door for the second-year wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster to shine. JuJu had an outstanding season, leading the Steelers in both receiving yards and receptions. His performance was also good enough to be voted by his teammates as the team MVP. This couldn’t have been easy for Brown to swallow as he is always used to being the star.
Around the same time, Brown was dealing with an injury leading up to the final week of the season. However, it wasn’t just any game they were preparing for, it was a matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals with a playoff spot on the line. With that in mind, it was a surprise to many Steelers fans, myself included when Brown was ruled out. Knowing the type of competitor that Brown is, it was very shocking that he would miss a game with this attitude. The Steelers still managed to win the game but unfortunately missed the playoffs due to a Ravens win.
I thought that would be the end of it but things got interesting just days after the game. Reports came out that Brown would have been able to play but was benched by Mike Tomlin. This was due to Brown skipping meetings during the week after an altercation during practice with a teammate, reportedly Ben Roethlisberger. It also came out that Brown left the Steelers sideline at halftime and did not return. The following weeks would feature very little communication between the Steelers and Brown. Then, the social media posts came from a video with James Harrison to other cryptic messages on social media. He also had a Q&A with fans on Twitter where he addressed his relationship with Roethlisberger, saying it was about “mutual respect” and that Ben had an “owner’s mentality”. Brown also voiced his disappointment that Tomlin had told the team that he quit on them. Finally, a meeting was made between Brown and Art Rooney II. At that meeting, they were able to clear the air on both sides and decided that a trade was the best option moving forward.
Although GM, Kevin Colbert has come out and said that they won’t just give Antonio Brown away, it is very safe to say that we have seen the last of him in a Steelers uniform. As a lifelong Steelers fan, Brown has always been one of my favorite players and it is very unfortunate the way that things have ended. I would’ve never believed you if you told me in past years that Brown wouldn’t retire as a Steelers. Even with that in mind, it was time to move on. Steelers fans, including myself, should be thankful for what he did for this organization during his time here. As the old saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.”