While many are obviously quick to paint the Pittsburgh Steelers’ barn red with a broad brush when it comes to some of the things that the organization has dealt with outside the football field, particularly as it concerns the behavior and decisions of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and how that differs from situations other teams have had, there is one question that I always come back to.
Are their situations really so comparable to what other teams have dealt with? While discussing Bell and Brown specifically, we have to understand that we are dealing with historically great players, players whom their peers have regarded as among the five best in the entire league.
These are the elite of the elite talents, and they have been entering new territory in terms of how such players expect to handle their business and to be handled. The situations that the Steelers have gone through with these players are new ground in many ways.
So when Mike Prisuta asked Art Rooney II about that very topic yesterday when the Steelers’ president appeared on WDVE radio yesterday, it really struck me. He was asked if he believes the talents that these players have and the state the league is in right now, financially, culturally, and socially, played a role in how Bell and Brown have conducted themselves.
“You know, Mike, it’s a good question”, he said. “I see things in other leagues that remind me of some of this stuff, [like] NBA players trying to move around and pick their spots”. Perhaps he was referring to Brown flirting with the San Francisco 49ers on social media. Bell also seemed to indicate preference for the Indianapolis Colts a time or two.
“We’ll see if this is a trend that continues” around the league with the new elite of the elite players when their contracts come up, he said. “It’s certainly something that’s kind of different for us, and so we’ll just have to wait and see. I hope it’s not a trend, but, look, contract situations, holdouts, things like that, we’ve dealt with those for a long time with a lot of different players in a lot of different ways. That by itself is nothing new. But certainly the way some of these happened, it’s a little different”.
While it certainly wouldn’t absolve the organization of all responsibility for how things have played out with these two players over the course of the past few years, I do think it’s a discussion worth having about whether or not they are a guinea pig of sorts about newly-empowered superstar players in the NFL.
Le’Veon Bell, through five seasons, is averaging more yards per game than any other player in the history of the NFL. Antonio Brown has more receptions than anybody through this point of his career than anybody in NFL history, and his six-season streak with 100 or more catches is unparalleled. How many other players are doing things that have never been done before beyond their rookie contracts?