The Pittsburgh Steelers traded away a Pro Bowl wide receiver and lost a Pro Bowl running back in free agency this offseason. The good news is that they had spares for both. The original Pro Bowlers had outlived their functionality within the team, and the rise of the new Pro Bowlers made the excision that much easier to swallow.
Following the 2019 NFL Draft, Head Coach Mike Tomlin spoke to Trey Wingo about the state of his team, and when the host asked him about the fact that they lost both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell this offseason (Bell of course was already gone for the 2018 season), he said that “there’s been a cleansing, if you will”.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 28, 2019
This comment hasn’t gone over very well be non-Steelers fans who still believe that Brown and Bell were angels throughout the entire process. It also hasn’t been received kindly by those who think it should have been Tomlin on his way out instead.
But for the rest, I think it’s a fair assessment of what the removal of Brown and Bell from the locker room represents for the Steelers going forward. Bell’s departure relative to last season is a non-factor because they already understand what their team will look like functioning without him—in fact, they’ve gotten many cameos for that over the years, as including last year he has missed more than two seasons’ worth of games over the past six years.
Brown’s absence will be an interesting transition, but the Steelers have stockpiled ammunition at wide receiver behind new number on JuJu Smith-Schuster, including 2018 second-round pick James Washington, 2019 third-rounder Diontae Johnson, and recent free agent acquisition Donte Moncrief. Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers also return from last season’s roster.
Will the cultural damage that Brown wrote, and its healing with his removal, outweigh the potential depletion of skill the Steelers will now have on offense with him gone? That is what the team is expecting going forward, though the receiver didn’t really give them much of an option, as he essentially promised to be a burden until he was traded.
There is an article that Mike Florio wrote about the remark made by Tomlin which I’ll not even link to because I frankly don’t think it deserves the monetized attention. In it, he faults the organization for the dissolution of both relationships with Bell and Brown.
If the Steelers “were willing to structure long-term deals the way that other teams do, Bell would be entering the third year of a long-term contract”, he argued. Perhaps that’s true—perhaps it isn’t. But the organization is entitled to negotiate contracts in any manner it pleases, and to use the franchise tag. The deal that they reportedly offered him in 2018 contained over $20 million in first-year full and practical guarantees.
On Brown, Florio wrote, if the Steelers “had been willing to hold him accountable once he became a great player, Brown wouldn’t have even considering making a power play” out of town. So basically he actually believes that Brown wouldn’t be Brown if the Steelers had not created him. right. And Terrell Owens was subdued.