Painful? Yes. But Steelers Make Right Decision to Move on from Antonio Brown

All good things come to an end. So it is with Antonio Brown and the Steelers. After dominating the headlines for the first two months of 2019, the on-going Antonio Brown Soap opera reached the beginning of the end as Antonio Brown met with Art Rooney II and the two sides agreed to seek a trade.

Art Rooney II, Antonio Brown, Steelers to trade Antonio Brown

Art Rooney II & Antonio Brown agree to part ways. Photo Credit: Twitter

If reports are correct, Antonio Brown first met with Art Rooney II while Brown’s father Eddie Brown was in the room. Once the two sides agreed to a trade, agent Drew Rosenhaus along with Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan joined entered to discuss next steps.

  • Significantly, the Steelers did not grant Drew Rosenhaus permission to explore trade opportunities with other teams.

This is important, because it underlines the fact that the Steelers are holding on to one of the key cards they have left to play in this deck – determining where Antonio Brown lands. (Preferably somewhere in the NFC.)

It Sucks, But the Steelers Made the Right Decision

There’s no way to sugar coat it, the Pittsburgh 2019 offense will be poorer for Antonio Brown’s absence. However, this move had to be made, however painful it might be.

  • As Jeremy Fowler’s report detailed, Antonio Brown got preferential treatment from Mike Tomlin.

While this outrages a lot of fans, the truth is that star athletes get special treatment from a lot of organizations, at all levels of organized sports. But abandoning your teammates in the heat of battle – with the playoffs on the line – simply cannot be tolerated.

  • One can argue that this sets a bad precedent, that in the future disgruntled players can social media temper tantrum their way off the team.

That could happen.

  • But that pales in comparison to sending a signal to the locker room that quitting is OK.

Like most fans, when news of this incident broke, I clung to some sort of hope that this would somehow just “all go away.” And the Steelers seemed to leave the door open in early January. Perhaps, in a pre-social media era that might have even been possible.

But it takes two to tango, and nothing Brown has done since walking out on the Steelers prior to the Bengals game indicates he’s willing to do his part of the dance.

Make No Mistake About It: Losing Brown Will Hurt

Antonio Brown is a Hall of Fame talent. Losing him will hurt. A lot.

Rarely can a team make a one-for-one replacement for a Hall of Famer as the Steelers did when they transitioned from Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson. More often than not, you end up with situations akin to what the Steelers found themselves in the 80s when they replaced Lynn Swann with Louis Lipps or Jack Lambert with David Little.

  • Lipps and Little only sins as Steelers were to be merely good instead of great.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger still has JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald as weapons. God willing James Washington will develop and James Conner will stay healthy. And, as it has been noted, the Steelers won Super Bowl XL with Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El and Super Bowl XLIII with Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington.

Just in case you forgot.

Nonetheless, Art Rooney II has made the right decision.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

When Art Rooney II Meets Antonio Brown, He Must Keep His Grandfather’s Advice in Mind

The Steelers soap opera with Antonio Brown continues. In this latest installment, Antonio Brown in the course of about two hours flip flopped from refusing to meet with Steelers President Art Rooney II to agreeing to the meeting “Out of respect” per Ian Rapport’s reporting.

All of it makes for tantalizing social media copy (although one might expect that Steelers PR director Burt Lauten would beg to differ) but it brings up a fundamental question:

  • Why does Art Rooney II want to meet with Antonio Brown in the first place?

Antonio Brown stormed out of Steelers practice either because of a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger or out of Jealousy over JuJu Smith-Schuster winning the 2018 Steelers MVP award and hasn’t been heard from since. Well, maybe, as Antonio Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus has indicated there has been some communication.

Antonio Brown’s refusal of phone calls form Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin and teammates is well documented. Based on Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reporting, the Steelers were already inclined to trade Antonio Brown before Antonio Brown made his trade request this week.

  • So what does Art Rooney II have to gain by meeting with Antonio Brown?

Perhaps this is simple due diligence. After all, it was only two years ago that Art Rooney II signed Brown to a 5 year contract. Perhaps Rooney, as a business man and a leader feels you don’t cut ties without at least talking to Brown face-to-face. No qualms with that.

Art Rooney Sr., Art Rooney Sr. Sons, Dan Rooney

Art Rooney Sr. and his sons at Three Rivers Stadium in 1975. Photo Credit: Art Rooney Jr. Com

It is also possible that a Rooney-Brown meeting could help facilitate a trade. Brown’s antics, from his domestic dispute to trolling the Steelers on social media, with or without James Harrison, serve as bright red buyer beware flags for every other NFL General Manager to see.

A Brown-Rooney II meeting ending in an amicable divorce with both parties doing and saying all the right things might not increase Brown’s trade value, but it should stop the bleeding.

Its also possible that Art Rooney II wants to meet Antonio Brown because he feels he must exhaust every last possible chance to keep the Hall of Fame talent within the fold. Given all we know, that possibly seems incredibly remote.

  • And, accepting any Antonio Brown assurances that “It’ll never happen again” would seem hoplessly naïve.

But there’s something to be said for meeting a man face-to-face, looking in his eye, and taking his measure. Fair enough.

But should the conversation take a turn towards reconciliation, Art Rooney II would be wise to take to heart the critical piece of advice that Art Rooney Sr. repeated offered his sons: “Never let them mistake your kindness for weakness.”

 

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Antonio Brown Requests Trade. Steelers Should Oblige by Trading Him into NFL Oblivion

Just as some commentators were speculating that his chances of staying with the Steelers had improved, Antonio Brown has requested a trade, multiple sources have confirmed. The news came on the heels of social media posts made by Antonio Brown:

https://twitter.com/AB84/status/1095375211749355520

Antonio Brown of course deserted his teammates in the week before the Steelers season finale against the Bengals after a reported dispute with Ben Roethlisberger. Shortly thereafter, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II confirmed that Brown had not been responding to repeated phone calls.

Art Rooney II, Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown future with Steelers

Happier times. Art Rooney II & Antonio Brown announcing his 2017 contract extension. Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic, AP via the Washington Post

Yet Antonio Brown was active on social media, deleting the Steelers from his profile, showing photo shopped himself with Jerry Rice wearing a 49ers uniform, trolling Mike Tomlin during his press conference with James Harrison and asking Steelers fans if they wanted him in Pittsburgh.

  • Meanwhile news broke that Antonio Brown had been involved in a domestic dispute with the mother of one of his children.

Reports suggest that Brown pushed the woman to the ground and perhaps hurt her wrist, although the woman has filed no criminal charges and did not make a formal criminal complaint.

While most of the Steelers press corps and a sizable portion of the fan base has been ready to part ways with Brown, Steelers players have been more receptive. Ben Roethlisberger called for Antonio Brown to return, as did Maurkice Pouncey, as did JuJu Smith-Schuster. Cameron Heyward, who is one of the Brown’s more vocal critics, seemed to leave the door open to Brown returning.

Time to Give Antonio Brown What He Wants?

The issue of whether the Steelers should trade Antonio Brown has been a wrenching one. While Antonio Brown suffered a slow start to 2018, he was in All Pro from in Steelers loss to New Orleans.

Nonetheless, Antonio Brown crossed and important line in the week leading up to the Bengals game, and some players felt that the Steelers didn’t react strongly enough, although it appears Brown was testing Mike Tomlin to see if Tomlin really would bench him.

  • It should be noted, that if one reads between lines of Art Rooney II’s comments, the Steelers appear to have at least investigated suspending Brown for his week 17 no show.

While the Steelers have offered no confirmation that they’ll look to move Antonio Brown, it is hard to imagine them trying to insist he stay in Pittsburgh.

But if today marks the no turning back point for Antonio Brown and the Steelers, then the question remains what exactly can Pittsburgh get in a trade?

  • Antonio Brown is a Hall of Fame talent who has shown very few signs of slowing down
  • Moreover, he has 3 years left on a very team-friendly, no guaranteed money contract

ESPN’s Adam Schefter lays out just how good Brown has been:

Ah with numbers like that visions of Kevin Colbert engineering a 21st century like equivalent of the Hershel Walker trade abound, don’t they? Alas, it is not so simple.

Yet in early January, Jim Wexell was reporting that one Steelers insider told him that the best they might get for Brown is a 3rd round pick. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted an anonymous NFL personnel man as saying the best Brown could net would be a conditional 4th round pick.

  • It says here that the Steelers need to try to get the best value they can for Antonio Brown.

On paper, a swap of 1st round picks and Antonio Brown with the 49ers seems reasonable. But if the pundits have it right, and Antonio Brown’s antics have poisoned the well as much as they seem to have, then Brown won’t bring the Steelers much in a trade.

And if the Steelers are forced to deal Antonio Brown for a fire-sale like trade value, then they need to get him as far away from Pittsburgh as they can. That means not only sending out of the AFC North, but ideally out of the NFC, and to a struggling NFC team with an unsettled quarterback situation.

While it would be tempting to do this out of spite, the real reason would be to limit the likelihood that Brown’s Hall of Fame talents can be employed against the Steelers. There’s not much difference between a mid 5th or a mid 6th pick, so if that’s all you’re going to get, better to send Antonio Brown to the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions or New York Giants than to let him land with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills or say Denver Broncos.

  • Antonio Brown officially wants out of Pittsburgh.

So Be It. The Steelers should oblige him by sending him as far into NFL oblivion as possible if Brown has already made it impossible for them to get fair market value for his talents.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

The Weakness Of The AFC East Has Contributed To The Patriots Dynasty

When I first started writing about football on a regular basis–almost a decade ago now–I wrote about how the Patriots ongoing status as a Super Bowl contender could be linked somewhat to the ongoing incompetence of the AFC East, New England’s divisional home.

Stephon Tuitt, Tom Brady, Steelers vs Patriots

Stephon Tuitt bears down on Tom Brady. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY, via Steel City Insider

Little did I know way back when that, not only would the Patriots still be a Super Bowl contender in 2019–they just won their sixth Lombardi trophy with a 13-3 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII–the rest of the teams in the AFC East would be even worse now than they were then.

As a Steelers fan who is somewhat jealous and a little resentful of New England’s success, you might say I’m just looking for excuses when I state that the Patriots’ have benefited from a very weak division.

  • But how can that be so easily dismissed?

When you look around the NFL, how many teams have benefited from a continued lack of competitiveness from not just one, not just two, but all three divisional opponents?

Since the Patriots run started in 2001, the other three teams that remained in the AFC East after divisional alignment in 2002 — more on that later — have combined to make the playoffs 10 times. And only the Jets (2002) and Dolphins (2008) have managed to unseat New England as divisional champs. New York actually managed to make the playoffs six times over the first decade of the Patriots’ run, but haven’t been back to the postseason since 2010. As for Miami, only three playoff appearances since 2001–including just one since 2008. And what about the Bills?

  • My goodness, they’ve been so bad, they’ve only made the playoffs one time since Bill Clinton’s second term as President of the United States.

If you calculate the win-loss totals of every other AFC East team since 2001, the Patriots have been dealing with a 7-9 opponent, which is pretty much on par with what the Steelers have had to contend with in the AFC North over that same period of time.

  • If that’s the case, where is the advantage for the Patriots?

The numbers are a little misleading. First of all, every team in the AFC East has been inept, with only the Jets and Rex Ryan managing to put up a fight (remember the “I didn’t come here to kiss the Patriots rings” comment when Ryan was first hired to coach the Jets)? And, again, that was a decade ago.

As for the AFC North, the Browns have been so bad since 2001 — a grand-total of 90 wins–it totally skews the numbers. While Cleveland has been the laughingstock of the NFL since coming back into the league as an expansion team in 1999, Pittsburgh’s other two opponents in the AFC North — the Ravens and Bengals — have done what most other teams do when one particular divisional opponent has had the upper-hand too long: they’ve made it their goal to stop it.

To be fair, the Bengals overall record since 2001 has been on par with New England’s divisional opponents, but Cincinnati has managed to make the playoffs seven times since 2005 and has captured the AFC North title four times.

As for Baltimore, now we’re talking about a legitimate foe, one that simply refused to sit back and allow the Steelers to reign supreme. Equipped with a great infrastructure — including the owner, general manager and two excellent head coaches — the Ravens have made the playoffs 10 times, won the division five times and won the Super Bowl one time since 2001 (and it would be disingenuous to discount Baltimore’s Super Bowl victory following the 2000 season, which makes what the Steelers have had to contend with over the past two decades seem even more arduous).

Following the Steelers incredible comeback victory over Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2010 regular season, the Ravens made it their offseason mission to upend the black and gold in 2011. What followed was a two-game sweep, which enabled the Ravens to capture the AFC North and a bye on a tiebreaker, while Pittsburgh had to travel to play Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos on Wildcard Weekend (you remember how that ended).

One year after suffering a heartbreaking loss to New England in the AFC title game, the Ravens captured their second Lombardi trophy with a victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Bottom line, the Steelers, like very other team in the National Football league, have been held in-check and been held accountable by their divisional foes (and then some).

  • With very few exceptions, the Patriots haven’t had to deal with accountability from their AFC East foes.

While Drew Brees and the Saints must contend with Matt Ryan and the Falcons and Cam Newton and the Panthers just to escape the NFC South every year, for example, New England begins each season with five or six divisional wins essentially in the bank.

If you’re married, you know how your work can suffer when things are tough to deal with at home. The Patriots have had nothing but domestic bliss since the day they became serious contenders almost two decades ago.

And it’s pretty ridiculous that the other teams in their division have been so bad for so long. Where’s the pride? Where’s the willingness to build a program to take New England down a notch or two? Just because you must deal with the great Bill Belichick and the GOAT Tom Brady twice a season doesn’t mean you have to play like garbage in your other 14 games.

Do you think the Packers, Eagles, Giants or Broncos would sit back and allow a divisional opponent to walk all over them for so long? It’s almost like the rest of the AFC East is just waiting for the Patriots run to end so they can come out from hiding.

Speaking of GOATs, Peyton Manning and the Colts were still in the AFC East in 2001 before divisional realignment moved Indianapolis to the newly-created AFC South a year later. Had the Patriots been forced to deal with Manning and the Colts juggernaut twice a year over the next decade-and-a-half, it seems unlikely that their run would have been as sustained and successful.

  • We’ll never know for sure, of course. But we do know what the Patriots have had to deal with in Manning’s absence in terms of formidable divisional foes.

Not much.

You can call it an excuse and maybe it is, but there is no question the Patriots historic run has been aided greatly by a division that has done very little to stand in their way.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Reminder Steelers Nation: Lombardi Trophies are an Achievement, Not an Entitlement

Super Bowl Sunday has arrived and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing in it. And while that’s a disappointment, it hardly qualifies as an injustice.

  • Lombardi Trophies are an achievement not an entitlement.

This should be obvious, but certain segments of Steelers Nation seem to have lost sight of the fact. Many bemoan the fact that Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger have only gone 1-1 in Super Bowls and haven’t sniffed the big game since 2010.

Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney legacy, Dan Rooney Lombardi Trophies, Dan Rooney obituary

Dan Rooney sitting in front of the Steelers 5 Lombardi Trophies. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Yes, It IS Hard to Feel Good about the Steelers Right Now

Before proceeding, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room:

  • It is very hard to feel good about the Pittsburgh Steelers these days.

Heck, yours truly started in article musing about the potential for a Steelers rebound in 2019 that Tony Defeo finished while on I vacation. During that time even MORE negative news surfaced about the Antonio Brown AND Morgan Burnett publicly asked for his release.

Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward have sounded off on the situation. Who knows? Before this is over, we might expect to hear from Preston Gothard. OK, we won’t, but you get the point.

All of this provides a poignant backdrop to the harsh reality that since losing the 2016 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Steelers have taken two successive steps backwards.

  • Why have the Steelers regressed?

There are many reasons. The hand of fate has been felt acutely. Think Ryan Shazier’s injury or even the injuries that ruined Senquez Golson’s NFL career before it began.

Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Browns, Steelers Browns tie, Mike Tomlin rain

Mike Tomlin after the Steelers 21-21 tie against the Browns. Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin, USA TODAY, via ActionNetwork.com

Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have all made mistakes. None of what follows absolves them of their errors. But it should remind us of just how hard their job is.

Winning a Super Bowl Is Hard

The Pittsburgh Steelers have appeared in 8 of 53 Super Bowls. You’ll find no better example of institutional excellence, but spoils Steelers fans into forgetting just how hard it is to bring home a Lombardi.
Just how hard is it to win a Super Bowl?

Well, let’s begin with the fact that the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions have never appeared in a Super Bowl. While the Jaguars and Texans joined the league as expansion teams in the ‘90’s and 00’s, Lions and Browns fans are waiting ½ century and counting for their first shot at a Lombardi.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates 1971 and 1979 World Series wins practically qualify Bucos as a dynasty by comparison.

Super Bowl appearances are nice, but it is the wins that really count. Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills fans can attest. Those two franchises lead the league in lost Super Bowls with 4 apiece. In total, there are 12 teams that have never won a Super Bowl in the 53 year history of the event.

  • In other words, 37.5% of NFL teams have never hoisted a Lombardi.

And that percentage does not control for timeliness.

The Jets, Chiefs and Dolphins all have Lombardi’s to display. New York’s arrived as to product of one of the greatest upsets in the history of North American sports.

  • That upset also happened 8 days before Richard Nixon put his hand on the Bible to be sworn in as President.

Hank Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs also pulled off an upset of their own in Super Bowl IV, a victory which came three months before the Beatles officially broke up.

The Miami Dolphins won their last Super Bowl in January 1974, back when Star Trek seemed condemned to be forgotten as a cult series relegated to perpetual re-run status on UHF channels.

Going 1-1 in Super Bowls over an 11 year period doesn’t sound quite has bad, does it? (Special nod to Ivan Cole who pointed many of these stats out via email.)

Building Back-to-Back Super Bowl Eras Is Harder Yet

If winning a Super Bowl is difficult, then stitching together back-to-back Super Bowl eras is harder yet. Think of the franchises fortunate enough to field successive franchise quarterbacks.

George Seifert replaced Joe Montana with Steve Young. He also had Jerry Rice, arguably giving him a better quarterback, wide receiver combos than Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. He only won one Super Bowl with Joe Montana and one with Steve Young.

The Green Bay Packers had Brett Farve for 16 years and went 1-1 in Super Bowls. succeeded him with Aaron Rodgers, yet have only added 1 more Lombardi to the case under his watch.

  • The Colts of course followed Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck but are still waiting on their latest Lombardi.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have indeed authored a Super Bowl era that has lasted 18 years an counting, an incredible achievement which they very well might add to this evening.

But even the vaunted Patriots went 10 years between Lombardi Trophies. And while we’re at it, just how many trophies did Pete Carroll’s Legion of Boom bag?

Hum, going 1-1 in Super Bowls and never dropping below .500 seems a little more appealing now, doesn’t it?

Yeah, But the Steelers Have Had a Franchise Quarterback….

True. And, given what was discussed above, the familiar refrain that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are squandering Ben Roethlisberger’s prime years certainly rings true.

  • But how does sentiment stand up to logic?

Let’s see. Don Shula had Dan Marino and only managed one Super Bowl appearance and zero wins. Dan Reeves lost 3 Super Bowls with John Elway. Marv Levy lost 4 Super Bowls with Jim Kelly. Sean Payton and Drew Brees only have one Lombardi to their credit, and have endured 4 losing seasons since winning a Super Bowl.

  • Franchise quarterbacks come with a sort of Catch 22.

Today, a franchise quarterback is (almost) essential to winning a Super Bowl. Yet a franchise quarterback sucks up salary cap space and all but ensures that his team will draft late in every round. That means a franchise quarterback can take you to the Mountain Top, maybe more than once, but his presence also makes it hard to mount a serious comeback should you get knocked off the top.

Steelers Still Have a Shot at a Third Ring

To repeat:  It is hard to feel good about the direction the Pittsburgh Steelers are heading in. As I have said before and will again, it is entirely possible that the window to Lombardi Number Three for the Ben Roethlisberger era closed the moment Ryan Shazier suffered his spinal contusion.

But the emergence of T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald and James Conner alongside stalwarts like Cam Heyward and Joe Haden at least give the Steelers a chance to keep the window open.

  • Will the Steelers walk through the window before Ben Roethlisberger begins his “Life’s Work?”

Time will tell. But let’s enjoy the ride that might still take us back to the Mountain Top while we still can.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Safety Morgan Burnett Is Reportedly Seeking His Release

 

It was first reported on Saturday by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network and NFL.com that Morgan Burnett, the veteran safety the Steelers signed last March, wants released from his three-year deal in time to shop around for another team in free agency this March.

“Spoke with #Steelers S Morgan Burnett, who tells me he wants released from his deal before free agency. During his time in Pittsburgh, he felt he played out of position as a dime LB. Burnett, with 2 yrs left on his contract, wants a new start & a chance to play safety again.”

That Tweet from Rapoport obviously means his source isn’t a Steelers insider or just an anonymous source. It’s Burnett, himself, which means the report is legit.

  • Does this mean the Steelers will grant Burnett his wish?

It’s easy to see where the veteran safety is coming from, especially after Pittsburgh unexpectedly drafted Terrell Edmunds, also a safety, in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft just weeks after Burnett was brought into the mix. However, Burnett, who just turned 30 on January 13, certainly didn’t help his cause for playing-time, missing five games due to injury during the regular season–including Week 1 vs. Cleveland.

  • Burnett, a strong safety by trade, wants to find a team where he can play the role that best suits him.

Burnett seemed destined for the strong safety position last year, which ultimately led to Sean Davis, in his third season out of Maryland, switching to free safety, following the release of Mike Mitchell last spring.

Seth Roberts, Terrell Edmunds, Morgan Burnett, Steelers vs Raiders

Seth Roberts smokes Terrell Edmunds & Morgan Burnett. Photo Credit: Tony Avelar, Raiders.com

But following the drafting of Edmunds, the Steelers made no secret of their plans to utilize their safeties more in dime linebacker roles, especially after failing to land one of the young, stud inside linebackers who could have taken the place of Ryan Shazier after Shazier suffered a catastrophic spinal injury near the end of the 2017 campaign.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by releasing Burnett, who signed a three-year, $14.3 million deal, the Steelers would free up over $3 million in cap space, while also taking a $2.8 million hit in dead cap money.

To his credit, Edmunds did start 15 games in his rookie season, and while he did appear to struggle a ton and was mostly unspectacular, it’s hard to envision the Steelers holding him out of the lineup in 2019 in favor of a veteran who also made little impact in 2018.

Therefore, it’s easy to envision the Steelers granting Burnett his wish of being released.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

The Steelers Took a Step Back in 2018. Can They Take One Forward in 2019?

As our 2018 Steelers season review concluded, Pittsburgh took a step back last year, today we look at whether the Steelers can take a step forward in 2019. That certainly seems like a strange question to ask here on the weekend of Super Bowl LIII, but consider:

  • Who saw the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII a year earlier after an ugly playoff loss to the Jaguars?
  • How many pundits predicted a 15-1 ’04 season that ended in the AFC Championship after a 6-10 2003?
  • Did anyone think the ’01 Steelers would finish 12-4 following a playoff-less 9-7 finish in ’00?
  • Heck, the 1989 Steelers suffered their 3rd shut out just before Thanksgiving, but finished a fumbled snap away from the AFC Championship

Yet, if the “Steelers can take a step forward in 2019”storyline seemed promising going into the Bengals game, Antonio Brown‘s meltdown and impending trade complicates things, to say the least.

We ask the question nonetheless. Examine the situation below.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, Steelers vs Bengals

Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Shazier after the Steelers win. Photo Credit: Aaron Doster, USA Today, via 937TheFan.com

Rejuvenated Running Game?

Le’Veon Bell is on his way out of Pittsburgh. That means that, assuming the Steelers don’t do anything stupid like trying to use the franchise or transition tag on him, you’re going to hear lots of Gloom and Doom stories about the devastation wrought to the Steelers over the loss of one of their best players.

  • Don’t fall for it Steelers Nation.

Yes, it probably would have been better had Le’Veon Bell signed the deal his agent and the Steelers agreed to in the summer of 2017. And as detailed, franchising Le’Veon Bell a second time was a mistake. But what’s done is done.

We’ll say it again here and in the future, the Steelers absolutely must commit to finding a better third running back in 2019. But both men not only showed that they can rush the ball effectively, they’re also double threats.

  • Another thing to ignore is all of the talk of the Steelers resisting the rushing revolution.

Yes, the Steelers did pass at an insane rate in the 2nd half of 2018, but they almost certainly did so by necessity, not by choice, because the Steelers didn’t want to run James Conner into the ground.

Improvements on Defense (No, that’s not a Misprint)

Don’t let the headline lead you to think I’ve gone delusion. The Steelers defense still has a long way to go even to approach its mid-2017 form, let alone progressing beyond that. And the stark truth is that there are roadblocks in the Steelers way that don’t include finding some way to replace Ryan Shazier.

  • The Steelers defense gave up 4th quarter touchdowns with alarming regularity.
  • The pass rush, while overall strong, couldn’t deliver at critical moments.
  • Artie Burns looks like a total loss, and Cameron Sutton did not appear to take a step forward.

Yet, if those warts are real, the 2018 Steelers defense did make some legitimate improvements.

  • Moving Sean Davis to free safety has helped limit the long plays that doomed the ’17 Steelers
  • Tackling and yards allowed after catch/contact dropped dramatically
  • T.J. Watt looks to be budding into a legitimate threat as a defensive playmaker
  • Javon Hargrave also made some noise and the coaches appear to be finding ways to get him in the game
  • Terrell Edmunds revealed tremendous athleticism and flashed potential

Moreover, if “Heinzsight’s” film analysis from 247 Sports Pittsburgh is accurate, the Steelers defense was much more sound schematically this year than in prior years, even if execution continues to be an issue.

Emerging Weapons on Offense

The Steelers offense also offers promise for 2019. Vance McDonald emerged as a legitimate weapon and, equally importantly, was able to stay healthy. Eli Rogers arrived late, but made almost an immediate impact. JuJu Smith-Schuster showed that his rookie season was no fluke. James Washington started slowly, but his work ethic is spectacular and he began flashing late in the season.

The offensive line will undergo changes, without a doubt, as Ramon Foster could be gone, and Marcus Gilbert is likely gone. Losing Mike Munchak is a blow without a doubt, but the Steelers have a strong core, and Shaun Sharret shouldn’t be sold short.

Most importantly, while Ben Roethlisberger‘s play was hardly flawless, he showed few, if any signs of losing a step to father time.

Filling In The Blanks For A Better 2019

The Steelers certainly have some holes to fill before the 2019 season.

And there may be even more holes, if the organization really goes through with its reported desire to trade Antonio  Brown.

As for Brown’s mindset, and whatever it is that has been going on in his life from a personal and professional standpoint since before the start of the 2018 campaign, he also appears to desire a new home in 2019. Will the two sides work things out? Will the Steelers trade their star receiver–a man who has caught over 100 passes for six-straight seasons?

  • The answer to that question will determine just what actions the Steelers will take in order to improve their fortunes for next year.

Let’s face it, if Brown is no longer the focal-point of Pittsburgh’s offense, that would leave the unit without both he and Bell, two of the game’s top play-makers in recent years. As much as fans may want to see those guys gone, it directly contradicts their long-held desire for Super Bowl success. If Brown does join Bell as an ex Steeler, will Smith-Schuster, a man who caught over 100 passes and made his first Pro Bowl in just his second season, be able to carry the torch for Pittsburgh’s offense?

That’s one problem. Another is finding a play-maker for a defense that finished 2018 with just 15 takeaways. Yes, the unit did show signs of improvement at times, but it’s hard to be a truly great defense if you can’t take the football away. Maybe the answer lies in really going for it in free agency and finding a true replacement for Shazier. With more room to work with under the cap during the upcoming free agency period, we may get the answer.

  • Finally, can the Steelers take a step forward in 2019?

If you’re looking for solace, for comfort in the future, just know that the organization will do just about everything in its power to take that step forward. Some organizations are fine with some of the issues Pittsburgh is dealing with right now. The Steelers aren’t one of those organizations.

 

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Hits Keep Coming. Mike Munchak Bolts to Broncos. Steelers Promote Shaun Sarrett to Offensive Line Coach

The NFL’s 2019 off season hasn’t even officially started, yet the hits keep coming for the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the Denver Broncos passed on signing Mike Munchak as their head coach, Steelers Nation breathed a sigh of relief.

  • Yesterday, that sign became a gasp of desperation as the Broncos named Mike Munchak as their offensive line coach.

The Steelers moved swiftly to fill the position, naming offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett who had formerly served as Munchak’ s assistant. Shaun Sarrett has worked with the Steelers since 2012 as an offensive assistant.

Mike Munchack, Shaun Sarrett, Steelers offensive line coaches

Shaun Sarrett & Mike Munchack at the 2018 Pro Bowl. Photo Credit: 247 Pittsburgh

The Munchak Legacy in Pittsburgh

Mike Munchak was easily the highest regarded assistant coach on Mike Tomlin’s staff. And his record shows why.

When Mike Munchak arrived in January 2014, the Steelers offensive line seemed to be in a natural state of chaos. Whether it was because of injuries or ineffectiveness, offensive lineman shuffled in and out of the Steelers lineup from game to game, sometimes even during games themselves.

  • Mike Munchak changed that.

While the Steelers had been moving away from the “Plug and Patch” offensive line philosophy that characterized the early Tomlin era, it was Mike Munchak who ensured that those draft picks paid dividends.

A look at the development of Marcus Gilbert is telling, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik observed shortly before Munchak’ s arrival, “…Gilbert maintained his starting role at right tackle all season but allowed 11 of the 43 sacks of Roethlisberger and 30 quarterback hurries.”

  • While is career has been hobbled by injuries, under Munchak, Marcus Gilbert grew into one of the NFL’s better right tackles.

While Maurkice Pouncey was already flourishing before Munchak arrived and David DeCastro probably would have flourished as well, Mike Munchak’ s real genius showed in his work with players like Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler and especially Alejandro Villanueva, who didn’t even play offensive line in college.

Of the men mentioned above, only Beachum got a call on draft day, and then as a 7th round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but all of them have stepped in as starters on the Steelers offensive line and effectively provided protection for Ben Roethlisberger or opened holds for the likes of Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams or James Conner.

The details behind Mike Munchak’s decision to bolt to the Broncos remain unknown. One of Munchak’ s daughters and grand children live in Denver, and that is why Munchak is so strongly attracted to the Broncos head coaching job. Others have suggested he wishes to escape the Antonio Brown circus.

Regardless, Mike Munchak did a tremendous job in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers will miss him.

Don’t Sell Shaun Sarrett Short

While losing Mike Munchak is clearly a blow for the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff, it would be a mistake for Steelers fans to sell Shaun Sarrett short. Mike Tomlin’s decision to fire Jack Bicknell immediately after the 2013 season surprised many. The Steelers 2013 offensive line had started very poorly, but improved by season’s end.

As Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed at the time:

Curiously, the offensive line improved as the season wore on.
After allowing 36 sacks in the first nine games, the Steelers allowed just seven in the final seven games. And the running game that averaged just 3.4 yards in the first 11 games averaged 4.1 yards in the final five games.

Why would Mike Tomlin fire his offensive line coach after seeing such improvement? Because as the 2013 season wore on, the offensive assistant Shaun Sarrett, and not Bicknell, began giving the lineman their individual instruction.

  • If Mike Munchak proved anything during his time in Pittsburgh, it was that he was an excellent teacher.

Shaun Sarrett has been at Mike Munchak’s side as he has mentored and molding one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and it is fair to conclude that Munchak taught Sarrett a thing or two about coaching.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Art Rooney II on Antonio Brown’s Future in Pittsburgh. Did the Steelers President Tip His Hand?

Art Rooney II spoke with Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on the Antonio Brown situation, and while the Steelers President didn’t close the door on Antonio Brown remaining in Pittsburgh, he left little doubt about which way that door was swinging.

Art Rooney II, Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown future with Steelers

Happier times. Art Rooney II & Antonio Brown announcing his 2017 contract extension. Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic, AP via the Washington Post

Art Rooney II made it clear the Steelers were not going to release Antonio Brown outright, but he also clarified that the team would not be hamstrung by the salary cap implications of trading him. But perhaps his most telling quote came when Dulac asked him about Brown coming to St. Vincents:

Asked if it would be hard or easy to envision Brown being at training camp in Latrobe, Rooney said, ‘As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that. But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today. There’s snow on the ground. We don’t have to make those decisions right now.’

Mind you, this came from a man who once wrote off Antonio Brown’s “Facebook Live” incident as a “minor annoyance.”

None of this is surprising. When asked if Antonio Brown quit on his team, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered no objections. And for those savvy enough to decode press reports, it is pretty clear that the Steelers are open to trading Antonio Brown.

  • And there’s a strong argument to be made for the Steelers-Brown divorce.

Abandoning your teammates is not a trivial offense. The Steelers cut LeGarrette Blount outright when he walked off the field during the Steelers 2014 win over the Tennessee Titans when coaches indicated that Le’Veon Bell would remain in the game. While the situation was a little different, James Harrison did the same in 2017 and the Steelers cut him at Christmas.

Ben Roethlisberger has spoken publicly about the incident, denied any friction between him and Brown in an effort to remain open to Brown coming back. Cam Heyward said he wanted Brown to remain a Steeler, but also made clear that Brown’s behavior is unacceptable. Fair enough, but while Roethlisberger and Heyward’s opinions count, neither man has decision-making authority.

Art Rooney does, and he’s made clear he’s ready to use it.

  • But the question must be asked, did Art Rooney II go too far and tip the Steelers hand?

This might be overthinking things, but if working closely with sales representatives who put together multi-million dollar deals has taught me anything, it is to never let on how much you want to buy or sell.

  • Did other NFL teams know that the Steelers might be considering trading Antonio Brown before Art Rooney II acknowledged it? Of course they did.

But being open to trading someone and wanting to ship someone out are two different things. Scarcity creates demand, and if the Steelers are seen as wanting to trade Brown, then it could make it harder to get fair value for him.

  • If that sounds silly, think of the position the Steelers were in last season with Martavis Bryant.

Martavis Bryant, despite under performing, despite the Steelers having stood by him through various suspensions, wasn’t happy to have to compete with JuJu Smith-Schuster for playing time, and demanded “I want mines.” He then took to Twitter to demand a trade. The Steelers stood firm and refused to entertain offers.

At the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine Kevin Colbert took things a step further declaring:

Martavis was never offered in a trade. Teams have inquired about his availability. Because of media reports, we’ve quickly dismissed that and said he’s not available.

And then of course during the 2018 NFL Draft, the Steelers turned around and traded Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a 3rd round pick, and used it to draft Mason Rudolph. Why did the Steelers change their mind?

Because Jon Gruden knew Pittsburgh wanted to keep Martavis Bryant, he offered them a deal that was too good to turn down.

  • Different dynamics drive the Antonio Brown situation.

What Martavis Bryant did in 2017 was out of line; Antonio Brown turned his back on his teammates in their “darkest hour,” and then had the nerve to test his coach by showing up and trying to force him to play him.

A year ago saying that Bryant wasn’t available via trade was simply saying, “We have a guy on a rookie contract who we think can still contribute.”

In contrast, imagine if Art Rooney II had said something like, “Obviously, this is a serious situation, but Antonio is part of the Steelers family. And you know how the saying goes, you praise you family in public, and admonish them in private. We’ll take care of things in house.” He’d have made himself look weak to the rest of the league. Worse yet, he’d have revealed himself as weak to the entire organization.

  • Instead, Art Rooney II has done the opposite. He has made clear that Antonio Brown isn’t going to dictate to the entire Pittsburgh Steelers organization.

That’s the right posture to take. Hopefully his public stance won’t compromise the Steelers ability to demand trade terms that deliver fair value for shipping out a Hall of Fame talent out of Pittsburgh.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Scapegoating Saxon? (Maybe, Maybe Not) Steelers Fire James Saxon, Running Backs Coach

Mike Tomlin promised changes at his year-end press conference and he is making good on his word as heads continue to roll on the South Side. The Steelers announced today that they have fired running backs coach James Saxon, marking the 2nd coaching change of this off season following Joey Porter’s dismissal last Friday.

While Joey Porter’s dismissal was not a great surprise, given his off the field issues and the lack of development of Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones before him, James Saxon’s departure is not a move many predicted.

James Saxon

Mike Tomlin has fired James Saxon. Photo Credit: 12up.com

The Steelers hired James Saxon in the spring of 2012 after Kriby Wilson left to take a job with the Minnesota Vikings (accompanied by rumors that he could not get along with Todd Haley.)

During his first season, Saxon has worked managed the three back rotation that was Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer which truth be told, was starting to function well at mid-season but got untracked after Willie Colon’s season-ending injury.

In 2013, Saxon oversaw the development of Le’Veon Bell, as Bell ascended from a 2nd round pick that many questioned (although Merril Hoge didn’t) into the NFL’s best running back. Saxon also managed to coax respectable performances (the fumble against Denver notwithstanding) out of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman during the 2015 playoffs when DeAngelo Williams was hurt.

Most recently, James Saxon has helped James Conner and Jaylen Samuels make the transition from college to successful NFL running back.

Is Saxon Breathing Truth into Dick Hoak’s Parting Words?

In January 2007, Dick Hoak retired as Steelers running backs coach after serving in that capacity since 1972. When asked to reflect on his time, Dick Hoak c explained, “They say you’re hired to be fired in this business, so I guess I beat the system.”

  • One has to wonder if James Saxon making Dick Hoak’s words come true.

Mike Tomlin left little doubt that he was going to make changes to his coaching staff in the wake of the Steelers collapse from a 7-2-1 team to one that failed to make the playoffs. But to the naked eye the question must be asked, “Why fire James Saxon?

While it is true that three of the season’s pivotal plays involved fumbles by running backs, fumbles are hardly something you can blame an assistant coach for. Moreover, Jaylen Samuels came into the NFL with very little experience rushing the ball, yet he had the look of a quality number 2 NFL running back against both the Saints and the Patriots.

  • The easy conclusion is that James Saxon is a scapegoat or a fully guy.

But the easy answer isn’t always the correct one, especially when it comes to NFL assistant coaches. After ensuring a horrendous start and devastating injuries, the 2013 Steelers offensive line improved by the end of the year.

That story should serve as a word of caution that the easy conclusion might not be the right one. Fans have very little insight into what the tasks an NFL assistant coach is actually responsible for. Officially, Chan Gailey was the Steelers wide receivers coach in 1995, but his role in running the offense increased, leading the Steelers to fire Ron Erhardt after Super Bowl XXX.

Going further back, Tony Dungy joined Chuck Noll’s staff as a defensive backs assistant, yet research profiling Tony Dungy career as a Steelers assistant coach revaled that he spent much of his first year dealing with linebackers.

  • Of course we know that because the Steelers let reporters interview assistant coaches back then.

Today they do not, which means our understanding of the Steelers James Saxon firing will probably never move beyond speculation.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.