While it’s still very unclear just how the Antonio Brown situation will ultimately play out, given that we have just learned about it after his agent reportedly leaked the information to the media, I do think it’s safe to presume that, more likely than not, coming opening day, he will be marching out of the locker room and taking the field with the Pittsburgh Steelers starting offensive unit.
What happens between now and then is much less certain, and is of varying importance. How much, for example, does Brown really need to work within the confines of the South Side in order to prepare, given his maniacal work ethic? How much do he and Ben Roethlisberger need to work on their rapport after their franchise-best season? And let’s also keep in mind that the only thing happening right now is strength and conditioning.
There are reports that Brown is considering holding out substantially longer than Phase One of the offseason program, however, which could go on as far as the summer minicamp, or even well into training camp and the preseason.
The Steelers have dealt with wide receiver holdouts in the past, of course, with Hines Ward and Mike Wallace, but never have they had quite a situation as this, with a player who is clearly at or near the top of his position rankings, yet also has three years remaining on a contract.
Depending on how serious Brown is about getting some type of reworked contract, there is no doubt that the possibility he misses substantial time during the offseason exists. But I can’t help but think of this as a sort of hidden opportunity.
As mentioned above, Brown and Roethlisberger already have established a famous rapport, which should only require a minute amount of fine tuning prior to the regular season to get right. Much of the offseason process for veteran players is superfluous.
But that’s not true for some of the younger players on the roster, and the Steelers already have two up and coming wide receivers in Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant who could certainly benefit from the additional and higher quality reps with the first-team offense and Roethlisberger.
That’s not to mention the extra time and attention that a potential rookie wide receiver could gain from not having to work behind Brown. Darrius Heyward-Bey and all of the other fringe players, too, will benefit.
It helped Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, for example, back in 2012 when Wallace held out in the hopes of working out a long-term deal, and there’s no reason to think that Wheaton and Bryant will not benefit from the extra opportunities in practice as well.
In the long run, I don’t imagine that Brown’s potential holdout will be detrimental to the team, and will certainly not jeopardize the Steelers’ chances of success in 2015, unless something unpredictably catastrophic happens. And I don’t imagine that it will.
Of course, it’s still very early, and we hardly know how this will play out before it’s all over, but for now, outside of his leadership presence, I don’t believe that his absence will have an adverse effect on the team.