Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Does Antonio Brown Have a Future in Pittsburgh?February 8, 2017
Antonio Brown and the Steelers are making up, wounds run deep in New England and trying to understand how Terrell Owens is not going to Canton.
1. Antonio Brown Gets Real
Antonio Brown is sorry.
The Steelers star receiver said it over and over again in a lengthy conversation with Bleacher Report. It wasn't programmed or fake. He wasn't apologizing because it was the political thing to do. As we talked about his controversial video of the Steelers' post-playoff win locker room celebration, and the subsequent reaction, Brown seemed genuinely regretful.
"It was a dumb mistake," Brown said. "Can't believe I did it, and it won't happen again. I promise you that."
Brown created a stir around the league when he streamed video on Facebook Live of Mike Tomlin's profanity-laced postgame locker room speech to the Steelers following their divisional-round win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. Though Tomlin's speech was intended to be private, his remarks about the Patriots, whom the Steelers were to meet a week later in the AFC title game, irked many in New England. Brown apologized to Tomlin, but Pittsburgh lost 36-17 in Foxborough.
"The big thing I learned is that I have some growing up to do, and I'm going to do it," Brown said. "I learned a lot from it and will keep learning. I'm going to rebuild the trust with my teammates and my coaches. I promise you that, too."
This was easily one of the most overblown stories of all time. What he did was wrong, but it's not like Brown shot someone. Or assaulted someone. Or put mayonnaise on a hot dog.
Brown made the mistake of thinking that in the closed, paranoid, militaristic (and as an Army vet, I use that word with pride) world of the NFL, you can SnapFace or TweetGram something live from a locker room.
Brown is a good dude. You don't hear stories about him having off-the-field issues. You know why? Because they don't exist. They never have.
Yet it's also true that in speaking with several Steelers players, it's clear some felt Brown's ego was starting to get out of control. They added that some coaches, including Tomlin, believed the same. Some in the organization thought Brown cared too much this season about his stats.
To be clear, Brown still has unbelievable support in the locker room, the Pittsburgh players explained, and they insisted he is still extremely well-liked and respected.
Most importantly, they think Brown learned from his mistake and the team is now fully behind him (post contains profanity):
To me, it appears the Facebook moment has shaken Brown a bit, and righted his course. We're going to see a new Brown next season, a player who realizes how rare it is to win, who knows statistics are important, but winning is utmost. See: Brady, Tom.
Will he play in Pittsburgh next season?
"I'm a Steeler for life," Brown said.
Of course, it isn't entirely up to him, but Brown is too good for the Steelers to let go. At least, for the moment, it seems that way.
"My goal is always to get better every day," Brown said. "No one will ever outwork me. That's how it will always be for me. That will never change."
And if he's true to his word, Brown next season may be better than he's ever been.
2. Brisk Market for Brown
This shouldn't come as a huge shock, but there are teams wondering if they can swing some type of trade for Brown.
I'm told several teams have asked the Steelers if Brown is available, and according to two teams, the Steelers have said hell no.
Getting Brown would be expensive, requiring, at minimum, a first-round draft pick. But Brown also is the first player since Marvin Harrison to catch at least 100 passes in four straight seasons. Harrison is in the Hall of Fame, and Brown will likely join him one day.
For now, Brown has one year remaining on a six-year deal that will pay him $4.71 million in 2017. It seems the Steelers will be happy to give him a new deal, which is likely to cost in the range of $14 million to $15 million per season.
Brown—who was made available to me as part of a promotion for the Visa payment ring, the first-ever NFC-enabled, tokenized wearable form of payment—made it clear to me he's not leaving Pittsburgh.
"Steeler for life," he reiterated. "For life."
3. Brady Keeps Going and Going and Going...
In a quiet moment away from the post-Super Bowl madness, I asked Patriots receiver Julian Edelman what was it, exactly, that made Tom Brady special. His answer was brilliant and instructive.
"It's the trust factor," Edelman told me. "You look at him before a play and know that you trust him, obviously, but also, he trusts you.
"You know that he works hard, but I don't know if people really understand just how hard. He takes nothing for granted. He works every second of every day he can on getting better at quarterback even though he's already the best ever. He does this while being a great husband and father.
"He's relentless when it comes to football, and that's one of the best qualities you can have as a football player."
4. Old Feuds Run Deep in New England
The Patriots are still angry with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The sentiment flowed as an undercurrent throughout Super Bowl week, but New England players and management mostly took the high road. Brady did as well, during the week and when Goodell handed him the Lombardi Trophy.
But some of that bottled-up hatred has poured out in the days after the Super Bowl. There was no better example of this than Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia leaving the team plane wearing a T-shirt that depicted Goodell as a clown.
This is a coach doing this, not a player.
It's one thing for owner Robert Kraft to take shots at Goodell. He's Goodell's boss. Plus, he's a billionaire. Billionaires tell people off all the time.
But assistant coaches? They're seen and not heard. For someone as respected as Patricia to target the commissioner shows just how much this organization dislikes Goodell.
5. Interesting Choice Awaits Super Bowl Champs
Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett said he'll skip the team's potential visit to the White House because of President Donald Trump.
Several players I spoke to around the league agree with Bennett. Several others hate the idea and think it's disrespectful to the office of the president.
Bennett isn't the only Patriot who will skip a possible White House visit, however. Devin McCourty said he won't go, either.
"Basic reason for me is I don't feel accepted in the White House," McCourty told Time magazine. "With the president having so many strong opinions and prejudices I believe certain people might feel accepted there while others won't."
6. Do the Pats Really Need Gronk?
Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end of all time. He's still one of the most devastating offensive players this league has ever seen.
Yet he'll be 28 in May, and because he takes some of the more vicious shots you'll ever see, I think he's beginning to quickly break down physically. He missed much of this past season with hamstring and back injuries.
Predicting when to keep a player and when to cut him is a particularly brutal aspect of the game, and few have balanced those decisions better than the Patriots. That's why it wouldn't shock me if they were considering trading Gronkowski. After all, they just won a Super Bowl without him, and they could get a number of draft picks in return.
7. Sorting out Matt Ryan's Legacy
Ryan's role in the Falcons' demise Sunday is still being written.
And while he played well and certainly didn't lose the game, he also didn't win it. This has always been my issue with Ryan. He generates stats but not always big wins. I'm not the only one who believes this. A lot of people in football love Ryan, but they also acknowledge he lacks something.
What is that something?
The kind of mental toughness Brady displayed. Or Aaron Rodgers. Or Drew Brees. Or Eli Manning.
Ryan doesn't have that. I'm not sure it's in him.
8. The Terrell Owens HOF Debacle
The three best receivers, to me, of all time:
1. Jerry Rice
2. Randy Moss
3. Terrell Owens
And I could argue Owens was better than all of them. I might lose the argument, but I'd hang in there.
I covered all of them in their primes; Moss and Owens from the time they entered the NFL until they retired. The stats Owens generated are, in themselves, enough for him to get in. But he was also the most physically dominant receiver I ever covered. Even more so than Moss.
Some of why Owens did not get voted into Canton feels personal. Owens could be nasty with the media, and he didn't always get along with teammates, but so what? It's not the Hall of Great Teammates or Media Good Guys. It's not middle school. It's the Hall of Fame.
And you cannot write the history of the sport without Owens.
9. A Lifetime of Brutality
One of the toughest players I ever covered was Titans tight end Frank Wycheck. I saw him take amazingly brutal hits, then get right back up. And he did it again and again and again.
Recently, Wycheck told WZTV in Nashville he believes he has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He estimated he was part of 297,000 collisions and suffered 25 concussions from a football life that stretched from the time he was five years old to 33. That's 28 years of head trauma. That's too much.
10. Way-Too-Early Super Bowl Prediction
It'll be the Patriots and Packers.
Sorry, Brady haters.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.