Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger

USA Today

AB And Big Ben’s Relationship

Maybe you get everyone around a table to patch it up.

January 25, 2019 - 9:29 am
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When the Antonio Brown story first started kicking off and it blew up the way that it did, I had my concerns. Not about the sourcing of the story, but about the conditioning of the story. And I made my concerns known at that time. That the pacing was all off. 

We hadn’t even gotten to the wild card weekend and Brown was live-tweeting during Mike Tomlin press conferences, jumping on Instagram, and showing up on musical talent shows to be judged by people who hosted an MTV show 25 years ago.

The pacing was all wrong. And I warned everyone. I wasn’t concerned that the story didn’t have legs, I was concerned it didn’t have a good cardio engine. It’s a marathon, but AB and everyone else was treating it like a shuttle drill. 

Trade rumors were flying immediately. How would he fit into this team? What could the Steelers get from that team? And that was before we got to mid-January.

That story jumped on a Peleton bike and sprinted until its lungs popped out, and then saw that only 15 seconds had passed. That story needed to do some long days of steady-state heart-rate work to get itself into shape for the long run. Want to mix in a sprint or two every now and then for pacing? That’s fine. 

But now it’s so tired that when there’s breaking news about it, it’s kind of hard to get worked up. Like the report from ESPN that included one former Steeler saying that "[Tomlin] essentially told the group, we'll tolerate it now because of what he brings on the field, but the minute production stops, you don't overlook it.”

Right. And how exactly is that different from any other player in any other sport ever? 

I’m not saying that’s not an interesting anecdote or part of a larger picture, but if you saw excerpt from that story and freaked out about Brown getting to play by different rules, I’ve got news for you. 

Coaches and teams will tolerate guys doing a lot of things away from the field or the court because of what they bring to the field or the court. That’s how it is. And when they stop bringing it to the field or the court, the team stops tolerating it.

Antonio Brown has at least 100 receptions and 1,200 yards in each of the last six seasons. So it is distinctly possible that Antonio Brown receives different treatment. He gets to do different things away from the field because nobody can do what he does on the field.

You think the same rules that apply to the 53rd man on the roster apply to Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger? Hell. No. 

And here’s the other thing that keeps coming up in that ESPN piece: essentially every guy who’s ever played with him says he’s the hardest worker they’ve ever seen. A.B. isn’t some guy who’s putting up numbers, but letting himself go. He’s putting up numbers because he’s putting in work.

Cobi Hamilton told ESPN that Brown is "Stupid competitive -- never takes a day off, he's full speed. I know he's not an a--h--- like [media and fans] are portraying him to be. He worked to have those cars."

Timeliness to meetings isn’t necessarily his thing, but as one current Steeler said: "Who gives a bleep if he’s 15 minutes late to a meeting?"

The philosophy that you’ll tolerate stuff until the player can’t produce is fine. The moment the player stops producing, you stop tolerating the player. But what do you do when you don’t want to tolerate the player and he’s still producing. Because that’s where the Steelers are right now.

Antonio Brown hasn’t fallen off a cliff. Not even close. His closest thing to a down year in the last six seasons is better than just about everyone’s best year. 

And while much of the story is about Brown showing up late to meetings or getting special treatment, that’s not the real issue. As one former teammate said, the real issue is the dynamic between Brown and Ben Roethlisberger: "This has been brewing for years. It's just now coming to the surface. And it's probably over.”

I don’t know if I’m going to take an anonymous former teammate’s declaration that the relationship is over as gospel, but it’s a problem. And it might not be one that’s solved by Brown just showing up at meetings on time. You have two Hall of Famers, both of whom have earned and receive special treatment. So what do you do? You’re not trading Ben, so would you really trade Brown? I mean, really?

Or, if you’re the Steelers, do you hope that this story burns itself out due to lack of conditioning? Does the fact that it attacked 50 kilometers like it was 50 meters work in your favor and that after the Pro Bowl and after the Super Bowl, everyone goes away for a while and it all dies down. 

And maybe you get everyone around a table to patch it up. You aren’t going to find another Ben Roethlisberger and you aren’t going to find another Antonio Brown, so if I’m them, I’m doing everything I possibly can to keep it together. And I’m leaning on the fact that there are no more musical talent shows with d-list judges that AB can go on for a while.