1. 'Put the Phone Down, Dude'
It wasn't long after Antonio Brown's Excellent Video Adventure that several Patriots players began responding to text messages from B/R asking what they thought of the video. Specifically, the part where Mike Tomlin called the Patriots "assh--es."
The first Patriots player responded within minutes. It was, as the kids say, lit.
"F--k Mike Tomlin," one said.
"Why are we assh--es when he's doing the name-calling?" asked another player. And he had some advice for Brown: "Put the phone down, dude. That violates the trust of your teammates and coaches."
By now, most know Brown went all Spike Lee and recorded the Steelers' postgame talk after their impressive 18-16 playoff victory against Kansas City. As Brown mugged for the camera, the video caught Tomlin speaking to the team. Tomlin's words were mostly boilerplate, coachspeak stuff: be smart, get ready, gonna be a dogfight.
But then Tomlin is heard (at the 2:20 mark of the video) calling the Patriots "assh--es" (Warning: NSFW content):
I reached out to several Patriots players, and most were not happy. All of them asked not to be identified so as not to incur the wrath of Bill Belichick.
The video "caught my attention, that's for sure," a player said. "I don't think I'm alone. [The tape] will add some edge to our preparations."
I'm told some Patriots players were amused. Some didn't care. Some were mad, some weren't. In other words, a typical locker room with different opinions. The one consensus, for certain, was that it wouldn't happen in New England.
Tom Brady shared his thoughts on WEEI radio:
That’s against our team policy, so I don’t think that would go over well with our coach. Every coach has a different style. Our coach, he’s been in the league for 42 years and he’s pretty old school. He’s not into social media and I think he lets everyone know that. I think our team has a policy; we don’t show anything that should be private because he feels when we are inside our stadium, inside the walls, there has to be a degree of privacy that we have. What’s done in the locker room should stay in the locker room.
"That's how that team is run,” receiver Julian Edelman told WEEI radio. "I personally don’t think that would be something that would happen in our locker room, but hey, whatever. Some people like red and some people like blue. Some people like tulips and some people like roses. Whatever."
When Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder was asked by the media about the team's social media policy, he responded, according to a transcript from the team: "You know, everything that we do is just to be professional and carry yourself in a way that you would be proud of."
Tomlin apologized on Tuesday for his choice of language, though, really, he has nothing to apologize for. That type of language, and far worse, is used all the time in locker rooms.
But there's an even larger issue than the fact Brown unintentionally provided bulletin-board material for the best emotion-manipulator in all of sports, Belichick.
Brown illustrated the challenge coaches have in today's football universe. It's becoming increasingly difficult to control players' various social media appetites. Something like this was going to happen. It was inevitable.
This week several assistants told B/R their head coaches have to occasionally remind players to shut off their phones after games and not post private locker room conversations. It's not that these coaches believe players are recording with malicious intent; they think it's just part of the culture of younger players who think it's fine to post almost anything online, including locker room conversations. Or even something far more private.
The coaches cited Odell Beckham Jr.'s Miami boat picture as another example of the changing mentality of players and social media. Some players see anything as game to post.
Justin Witmondt @JustinWitmondt
So OBJ, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and Roger Lewis flew to Miami last night, went clubbing, and are on a boat. Living life. #Giants https://t.co/SE6QqfuYfT2017-1-2 15:37:41
At its core, this story is about the collision of old-school football values—that hold secrecy as vital and the locker room as a place of protection for players—versus a social media world—where intimacy is a relic.
One assistant also identified a divide between players in their lower 20s and those in their upper 20s. Younger players see no problem with airing anything and everything. Older players differ.
This split is even evident in the Steelers video. In the background, you hear Ben Roethlisberger, who is 34 years old, warn teammates about social media. It was a telling, ironic moment.
Another NFL assistant said what Brown did was "massively disrespect Mike. I know Mike. He's one of the classiest men I've ever known, and that's not how he should be treated."
I like that players draw attention to themselves. They get more marketing income this way, and making money off the field is key for players who will be paying to repair their broken bodies and minds for decades to come. Hell, yes. Get that money.
But there has to be a certain level of smarts used to navigate the social media minefield. No, this kerfuffle won't win or lose the game Sunday evening, but the Patriots have material to work with, and no team is better at manipulating us vs. them than New England. (Often because it's true.)
2. Can Brown Turn His Frown Upside Down?
One positive for the Steelers is that around the league, players and assistant coaches believe Antonio Brown will be extra motivated Sunday to prove his video hasn't been a distraction. One NFC assistant said he thinks Brown will have at least three touchdowns.
That might have happened, anyway. But feeling pressure to overcome his controversial week may be the best thing to happen to the Steelers. We'll see.
3. Social Media Crackdown Coming?
One general manager told B/R he believes the Steelers video incident will spur attempts by the NFL to stiffen fines for violation of the league's social media policy.
The NFL prohibits live videos approximately 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of the team's postgame media obligations (about 45 minutes to an hour after the game's conclusion).
The GM with whom I spoke believes there's too much at stake for the NFL not to take further action. While what happened is far from a tremendously big deal, the GM reasons, it could have been far worse. What if Tomlin used worse language? What if players were getting undressed?
Parts of this story are far from over.
4. Big Trouble by the Bay
Why did Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels withdraw his name from the 49ers' head coaching search? The answer is simple.
"Josh thinks it's a mess in San Francisco," a source close to McDaniels said.
I'm told one of the things McDaniels wanted was more say on personnel matters. And without that assurance, why would McDaniels leave the comfort of the most successful organization in the history of football for a dumpster fire?
5. Could Indy Be Peyton's Place Again?
Would Peyton Manning ever run the Colts' front office? Probably not. But this comment from Tony Dungy on NBC's Football Night in America on Sunday gave me pause.
"I think it does suit him for two reasons," Dungy explained. "No. 1, his relationship with Jim Irsay. [They are] very, very close. He has a lot of respect for Jim. And No. 2, he was in Denver—he saw John Elway do it, go from quarterback to general manager of a Super Bowl-winning team. I think he’d relish that opportunity."
He'd relish the chance?
The fact that Dungy spoke out about Manning and a potential reunion with Indianapolis means something.
Again, the odds are against it, but Dungy's words at least make you think twice.
6. A Select Club
Fourteen of the past 16 AFC quarterbacks in the Super Bowl have been either Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
Just let that piece of data marinate for a bit. It will be some time before we see anything like this again.
7. Bright Days Ahead in Big D
Prior to Sunday, many around the league believed Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was a franchise signal-caller. After matching Aaron Rodgers step for step, throw for throw, that belief has grown stronger.
So despite the disappointment of a divisional-round loss to the Packers, the Cowboys seem to have found their franchise quarterback of the future. That's no small accomplishment for a franchise that ran out Tony Romo each season while crossing its fingers he wouldn't get hurt.
The turning point? To me, it was not-drafting Johnny Manziel. And I'm not alone in thinking that.
It goes beyond the obvious of how much of a disaster the pick would have been. It's also about the mindset, which is different in Dallas now. The Cowboys are making smart decisions, and while no team is perfect, it feels like the organization is moving into a different, better stratosphere.
8. Man on a Mission
Check out this amazing stat from the NFL:
NFL Research @NFLResearch
During the 2016 playoffs, the @packers @AaronRodgers12 has more passing yards outside the pocket than the rest of the NFL combined. https://t.co/7Jl1UyHdAr2017-1-16 17:25:25
9. Seahawks Playing With Fire
According to Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper, Pete Carroll said Seattle doesn't plan on investing heavily in its offensive line this offseason, which is remarkably hubristic.
Russell Wilson was sacked 42 times and hit 111. How he survived this season is a tribute in itself to his toughness.
But it makes no sense for the Seattle hierarchy to take Wilson's mobility for granted.
Think about how good the Seahawks offense would be if Wilson was given more time—to scan the field, to run, to utilize the weapons this team has.
That might be something scary.
10. The Patriots' Double Standard
Most of the time, I'm not a believer in conspiracies. They are for the weak-minded and excuse-makers. I do believe in double standards, however, and the Patriots are facing big, fat ones.
The news that Seattle's Richard Sherman and the Seahawks hid his knee injury—in full violation of the rules, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk—introduces an interesting what-if.
Imagine, for a second, we are transported to an alternate universe. In that universe, a Patriots star had a knee injury hidden by the team, and it was discovered after the season concluded. What would the reaction of the NFL be? Of the media? Of non-Patriots fans?
Bill Belichick would be brought before a Klingon tribunal.
The reaction to what the Seahawks did, though, has been mild. The injury report is a significant document. It keeps (or attempts to keep) everything on the record. It's far from successful, but it does often work.
What the Seahawks did, or in this case, did not do, should raise alarm bells across the league about their loose adherence to NFL rules.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.