Brown’s absence from Week 17 practices resulted in a benching for the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, and during that week Brown had a flare-up in a team setting.
Rooney said in the Post-Gazette interview that it would be “hard to envision” Brown as part of the team when it reports to training camp in late July.
“There’s not much we can do right now; we have time to make a decision,” Rooney told the outlet. “We’ll look at all the options. We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table. Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way from thinking that can happen. We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
A trade can’t be executed until the start of the new league year March 13, and, perhaps more importantly, Brown’s $2.5 million roster bonus due March 17 would incentivize the Steelers to deal him.
The Steelers would absorb $21.12 million in 2019 dead money on the salary cap by trading Brown, but taking his $22.165 million cap charge off the books would offset that cost. Brown enters the third year of a five-year, $72.7 million extension signed before the 2017 season.
Rooney said in the interview that salary-cap implications would not “box us into anything.” The team president added he and coach Mike Tomlin have not spoken to Brown.
Shortly after Rooney’s comments became public, Brown sent out a tweet with a photo of him shaking Rooney’s hand in front of Steelers logos. The photo was taken at the team news conference in Feb. 2018 to announce Brown’s new four-year, $68 million contract extension. It’s not clear what Brown meant by the caption.
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 10, 2019
Brown has not formally requested a trade. Sources close to Brown said the All-Pro has been frustrated with team dynamics for a while but has not mentioned the desire for a trade since the season ended.
A source said Brown “went off” on a teammate during the week, and he skipped Saturday practice and Monday exit meetings.
Rooney said he believes the issues are bigger than one practice, which is why he’d like to speak with Brown. Brown missed a work day in Week 3 for what he called a personal matter and also left training camp for a few days for what Tomlin called a lower body injury.
“There’s no sense making the decision now. We’ll see how things play out,” Rooney said. “Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day and we learn more about where he is. We’ll see.”
In other words, the team isn’t thrilled that Brown has shut off communication.
Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree told ESPN that the Steelers have “family issues” that appear to revolve around Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who have combined to produce six consecutive 100-catch seasons for Brown. Roethlisberger said on his end-of-season radio appearance with 93.7 the Fan Pittsburgh that he wants Brown to stay and had a good conversation with the receiver in Week 17.
“We don’t really know what’s going on, we just know [Brown and Roethlisberger] are heated at each other,” Dupree said. “It’s not Coach Tomlin, it’s two grown men, two free players butting heads. … We have to learn how to be together [as a team]. We have to put it in the open and stop hiding.”