At the very least, most commentators seemingly agree with the notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers, pragmatically, had to part ways with former All-Pros, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. Both of them grew into malcontents and a future relationship with either reached a point at which it seemed to untenable.
There is far more disagreement about the state of the Steelers in the post-Killer-Bs landscape, with some—see Peter King, for example—believing that they are in for a nosedive with the drop in talent, while others believe that the team-over-individual approach will work in their favor and help them return to the postseason, leaving 2018 as an aberration.
You can include Pete Schrager in the latter category, as he explained at length in a recent Good Morning Football segment. “The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers will be better than the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers”, he began.
— GMFB (@gmfb) May 10, 2019
“Despite the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, I think this team is finally a unified core, and I feel like now they are all in together. Think about what they did last year. They were 9-6-1 with a locker room that was completely ripped from the core and fighting with each other publicly, fighting with guys who weren’t in the building, and they had their star player being a malcontent in Week 17”.
Now there is certainly some exaggeration there. At least based on what the players have actually said, there wasn’t this rampant infighting, and in fact right up until the end both Bell and Brown appear to have been well-liked members of the locker room. But nevertheless, there is a point to be made in there.
“I look at it this way. They are all in from day one, and they have young guys who are ready to step up. James Conner [is one of them]. I think James Washington steps up. And I think the biggest star is going to be this man, JuJu Smith-Schuster”, he said. “I feel like year two was a big year for him, he led the team in receptions and yards. I think he goes bonkers in year three as the number one guy”.
“I think the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite all of the tears shed by Steelers fans, despite all of the criticism for the way they handled Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in the front office, I think they’re a better team with getting rid of those two guys and moving on with what they’ve got in the locker room”, Schrager added.
He called it “the ultimate experiment of team over individual”, saying that the Steelers “have chosen team and jersey over individual and last name on the back of the uniform. I think it actually works out well. I think the Steelers are actually better this year despite less star power at those two positions”.
Even that is not entirely true. If anything, this move makes the ‘individual’ even stronger, in that the individual is now even more individually quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But in contrast to the individualism of Bell and Brown, Roethlisberger, at least ostensibly, puts winning and team first over his own performance, beyond the fact that his performance helps the team win.