The 2018 season might end up being best remembered by many fans not for what happened on the field but for what happened in the locker room for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In spite of the fact that they posted one of their best regular seasons in team history, in spite of their falling short in the playoffs, the overriding perception has been more about the locker room ‘distractions’ and whether or not the team has a handle on the drama.
There wasn’t exactly a lack of drama, either. I’m sure I’m going to forget a bunch of things, but we could go all the way to back before the draft while wide receiver Martavis Bryant was looking to return from his suspension. And it went right through to the end of the season with Mike Mitchell reportedly trash-talking in front of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ locker room.
Well, for better or worse, the Steelers ending up clearing the locker room of a lot of those sources of controversy last year. Sure, Le’Veon Bell is still here and Ben Roethlisberger is going to stir up with his comments from time to time.
But the Steelers released Mitchell, whose trash talking rubbed a lot of people the wrong way the minute he was brought in. They traded Bryant, whose request to be traded hung over the team while making comments about his teammates and generally putting himself above his peers.
James Harrison was released last year after he sometimes quietly, sometimes not so much spent the year brooding about his lack of playing time, even resorting to making comments about it on social media at times, and being disruptive to the camaraderie of the locker room with his behavior, such as being inattentive—or unconscious—during position meetings.
And I’m certainly hoping that we won’t have to deal with any kind of flag controversy this year, which was the one bit of drama from last season that players actually acknowledged was a legitimate distraction. The other stuff? It’s just a couple of extra questions they get asked during the week.
None of these moves were made with the factors mentioned above in mind—at least I wouldn’t think so. All of them made sense at the time that they were made from a football perspective with regards to where the team was at the time. Harrison was released, for example, to make room for Marcus Gilbert after Cameron Sutton was activated from injured reserve.
But if the end result is a quieter locker room that produces less of its own controversy—or at least produces less ammunition for the media for the fans to create their own controversies—then I’m not finding much to complain about in that.