As much as we like to think of the players on our teams, particularly our favorite players, as a cut above the rest and loyal to the cause, it’s important to occasionally take a step back and view the game from the player’s perspective, as an employee.
An NFL team is entitled to no more player loyalty than the franchise shows to its players, and we see every offseason that teams choose not to honor many of the contracts that they have agreed to, even as early as the same season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not immune to this by any means. They have cut underperforming players, asked aging veterans to take a pay cut, and some have even questioned the way that they have handled some recent departures with franchise cornerstones.
As much as previous team president Dan Rooney is credited with building a family atmosphere within the building, it was he who presided over the heart of the free agency era, and there was no other time during which the Steelers were less likely to pay up for their star players, who left to find success elsewhere, with Rod Woodson perhaps being the most notable example.
It is for this reason more than any that I find it difficult to take issue with wide receiver Antonio Brown’s decision, thus far, to sit out this early period of voluntary workouts, with the rumor that he is potentially willing to hold out in order to rework his contract, whether his issue is a higher base salary or a greater amount of guaranteed money. Guaranteed figures on deals from Pittsburgh’s front office are typically below the league average.
Naturally, Brown is looking out for his self-interest, and he is as entitled to that as the organization is entitled to seek its own self-interest. And truthfully, a football franchise has a much longer shelf-life than a football player does. They must maximize their earnings while they have the means and the market to cash in.
Every athlete is within his rights to attempt to acquire what he believes to be fair compensation for his services, and Brown’s body of work over the past two seasons matches up well with anybody else in the league, although the fact that he has three years remaining on his current contract is a complicating factor.
As much as he is and has been a team player over the years, and spoken of his desire to play his entire career in Pittsburgh, and as much as he has emerged as a leader in the locker room and in the media for the Steelers, it is fair to acknowledge, however, that he has had some me first moments in his history.
Early on in his career, he was the victim of a couple of penalties for showboating and excessive celebration, for example. He also embraced his role in the “Young Money Crew”, and advocated for Mike Wallace’s return this offseason. Most significantly, I think, was the report after one of the early losses during the 2013 season that Brown was unhappy with how much of the ball he was seeing.
That’s not in any way to disparage Brown’s character, who is deservingly regarded as a role model by many, and looked up to by many young fans. He famously took the time to personally respond to much of his fan mail during training camp last year, for example.
He no doubt is a fine representative of the type of player that the Steelers want to employ. But it just goes to show that ultimately, at some point, everybody has to put their own needs first. Even if it becomes a matter of ego.