Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk relayed an NFL Network report by Aditi Kinkhabwala, who said the latest example came during the team's loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Brown didn't celebrate a DeAngelo Williams touchdown because he wanted the ball.
Kinkhabwala added Tomlin had a sit-down with the 28-year-old wideout last year to discuss the need to stop worrying about his personal numbers in order to better help the team in its championship pursuits.
The latest report about the state of Brown's relationship with the Steelers suddenly makes his status one of the offseason's potentially blockbuster stories.
He made headlines following the team's triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round for streaming Tomlin's postgame speech on Facebook Live. He posted an apology on social media for capturing a moment in which the coach used colorful language when discussing the Patriots:
Antonio Brown @AntonioBrown
Tomlin's response to the mistake turned some heads. Rather than downplaying the issue and trying to shift the attention back to the New England game, he took a strong stance against Brown's actions.
Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today passed along Tomlin's comments, including a promise of punishment and even a mention of players changing teams:
I'll be bluntly honest here. It was foolish of him to do that. It was selfish for him to do that, and it was inconsiderate of him to do that. Not only is it a violation of our policy, it's a violation of league policy—both of which he knows. There are consequences to be dealt with from his perspective.
We will punish him. We won't punish us. And we will do that swiftly, and we will do so internally. ...
I think that's why often times you see great players move around from team to team. I definitely don't want that to be his story. I'm sure he doesn't want that to be his story, so he has to address these things that have put him and us, in time to time, in settings as such where it needs to be addressed.
Add in the fact that Brown only has one year left on his current contract with a cap hit of just over $13.6 million in 2017, per Spotrac, and things get interesting.
Typically, a franchise would be doing everything it could to lock up the Central Michigan product after he posted four straight seasons of at least 1,200 yards. But between Tomlin's remarks and the NFL Network report, things seem far less straightforward for the prestigious organization.
The Steelers obviously don't want to risk losing him for nothing next offseason, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see trade rumors emerge as this budding drama plays out. There would be no shortage of suitors if one of the game's top receivers became available in the coming months.