Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II cast serious doubt about the future of wide receiver Antonio Brown with the team, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday.
FILE PHOTO: Dec 30, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) looks on during warm-ups before the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. Brown has been ruled out of the game due to injury. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
“As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that,” Rooney told the newspaper when asked if Brown would be with the Steelers when they open training camp in July. “But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today.”
Rooney added the team hasn’t made any firm decisions, though it won’t simply cut Brown.
“We’ll look at all the options,” Rooney said “We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.
“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen. We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
Brown skipped practices and team meetings and didn’t answer phone calls from Rooney, head coach Mike Tomlin or teammates leading up to the regular-season finale. He then showed up to play against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the team held Brown out. The wideout was listed on the injury report with knee soreness, but many have questioned his injury, and reports have said teammates felt he quit on them.
Tomlin acknowledged last week that Brown might have become more of a distraction than he’s worth.
Just last February, the Steelers decided Brown was worth a four-year, $68 million extension, the richest in NFL history for a wide receiver at the time. As a result, there would be serious cap implications if Pittsburgh were to move on. The Steelers would save more than $15 million in real money in 2019, but they would owe $21.12 million in dead money against the cap, compared to Brown’s $22.165 million cap hit if he remains on the roster.
“That has to be taken into consideration,” Rooney told the Post-Gazette of cap implications, “but, as I sit here today, I’m not going to say that’s going to box us into anything. If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”
When Rooney was asked specifically about the possibility of a trade, he replied, “I’m not going to use those words. All options are on the table. We have two months to go before we can do anything. There’s no sense making the decision now. We’ll see how things play out. Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day and we learn more about where he is. We’ll see.”
Brown, 30, cannot be traded until March 13, when the NFL’s 2019 season officially opens. The Steelers would likely make a decision on his status before March 17, when he is due a $2.5 million roster bonus.
The Post-Gazette reports the team has not been in contact with Brown, who has not returned repeated phone calls from Rooney and Tomlin.
Rooney acknowledged that teammates’ opinions about Brown possibly returning in 2019 will be factors in the decision-making process. He also indicated that the issues with Brown at the end of the season are likely part of a broader problem.
“My belief is there’s more to it than an incident one day at practice,” Rooney said. “That’s one of the reasons I would have liked to talk to him about it — what it was and how it got to this point.”
Within a few hours after the newspaper posted Rooney’s comments, Brown tweeted a photo of himself and Rooney shaking hands, with the caption, “Good Business #Boomin.”
A seven-time Pro Bowl and four-time All-Pro selection, Brown caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns in 2018.
Brown ranks second in Steelers history behind Hines Ward in career receptions (837), receiving yards (11,207) and touchdown catches (74).
—Field Level Media