The Pittsburgh Steelers trade of Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders became official on March 13, 2019. Le’Veon Bell signed with the New York Jets a day later after opting not to play in 2018. The “Killer B’s” era of the Black & Gold is over.
Both players are uber-talented. Bell was a first team All-Pro in two of his five seasons & Brown in four of his nine seasons wearing the Black & Gold. Both were instrumental in making the Steelers an offensive juggernaut. During the five seasons they played together, Bell & Brown combined for 14,498 rushing & receiving yards and scored 94 touchdowns. To put this in perspective; they gained 46.3% of the team’s yards from scrimmage and scored 45% of the team’s offensive touchdowns. Many Steelers fans ballyhooed their individual statistics. Remember reading all the reports of AB’s streak of 5 catches for 50 yards per game week to week?
Having the Killer B’s including Ben Roethlisberger on the same team from 2013-2017 had Steelers Nation and many sports media personalities expectations high for the Steelers team. The Steelers were considered one of the Super Bowl favorites each season despite some defensive flaws.
The End Draws Near
The 2018 season saw Bell hold out for the entire year after the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him. He had refused a long-term deal because it did not guarantee enough money and he claimed to want to reset the market for running backs. After the Steelers placed the franchise tag, some of Bell’s social media posts indicated that he would play in 2018 and it would be his “best ever” season. That did not come to pass. Weeks went by until the final deadline passed, and he was no longer eligible to play. James Conner was hurt late in the Chargers game and missed the next three games. Imagine if Bell had come on for the last 6 weeks of the season – any chance that the losses to the Raiders and Saints might have turned out differently? Steelers Nation would have a renewed appreciation of Bell if he helped propel the team into the playoffs and would have better understanding of him going to a team that made a better offer than the Steeler’s long-term proposal.
Antonio Brown did play in the first 15 games of 2018. He had some magnificent games and scored 15 touchdowns. Whatever the reason, Brown cutoff communications with the team. Mike Tomlin benched him for the final game. The Steelers playoff hopes faded away with Baker Mayfield’s intercepted pass as players and fans watched on the Jumbotron. A question we will never know, is what would have happened if the Steelers had made the playoffs? Would Brown have come out to play or would he decide to hold the team hostage to gain a release from his contract to make bigger money?
Both the B’s are all-time Steeler greats. Brown finishes his career in Pittsburgh as #2 in franchise history for receptions, receiving yards and TD receptions behind Hines Ward. Bell in just five seasons is currently #4 in rushing yards and tied for # 3 in rushing TD’s. Many people consider them the most talented Steelers at their respective positions. But what the Steelers teams did not accomplish during this era was win any rings for the Black & Gold.
The Steelers had four straight playoff appearances during this period. Unfortunately, Bell was unavailable for the final playoff games in 2014 & 15. He was hurt early in the Conference championship in 2016. So, the 2017 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was the first time both finished the final playoff game of the season together.
Brown played in 10 playoff games for the Steelers (6 while Bell was on the roster). In those 10 games he caught 51 balls for 837 yards. However, he only had 4 touchdowns well below his scoring rate in the regular season. Bell’s injuries limited his availability, so he only played in 4 playoff games in which he scored 4 times. Ironically, they both scored twice in the loss to Jacksonville in 2017.
Hall of Famers
Some already believe Antonio Brown is destined for the Hall of Fame. If he continues accumulating statistics with the Raiders at the same pace as the Steelers, he should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Le’Veon Bell was certainly on a trajectory to achieve the Hall of Fame before holding out in 2018. However, if he picks up with the New York Jets where he left off with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he too will be voted into the Hall of Fame someday.
Hall of Honor?
As for the Steelers Hall of Honor, that will be interesting. The Steelers created their Hall of Honor “to recognize former players, coaches and contributors who have made a lasting impact on the organization.” Clearly, both Brown and Bell are two of the most talented players to play for the Steelers. But like the NFL’s Hall of Fame, this is an election and other factors could come into play. Will the selection committee consider the way that both players left as a detriment to the club?
Other talented players such as Rod Woodson have left the Steelers over contract disputes. So, over time voters may consider on the field performance more than their off the field actions. Though the purposeful devaluing of Brown’s trade value is certainly hard to ignore. On the other hand, Mel Blount sued Chuck Noll during the Oakland Raider “criminal element” dispute and eventually those differences were set aside. Perhaps, the committee will just wait for them to be elected into the Hall of Fame – that is an automatic qualifier for the Hall of Honor based on precedent. It will be at least three years before we begin to find out.
Where from Here?
It was not too long ago that many fans were saying that the Steelers couldn’t win a Super Bowl without Le’Veon Bell. Now the Black & Gold will have to figure out a way to win it all without Bell and Antonio Brown. I’m in it for the long haul. Been a regular Steelers fan since 1972. I’ve ended up disappointed at the end of 41 of those 47 seasons but still coming back for more. So, from the perspective of this average Steelers fan the killer B’s gave us plenty of excitement but in the end left unfinished business on the table. Here we go!
Your Music Selection
In the 2018 Memorial Day Weekend: Steelers Friday Night Five Questions, I committed to play songs that Steelers Depot respondents suggested might be the new Steelers anthem if Renegade by Styx was ever replaced. Here is entry 44 of 45 from Jaybird & Jeremy Miler: Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd.