Some players are so good, the baggage they’re bringing along is worth it. Antonio Brown is one of those players, so reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers may be open to trading the All-Pro wide receiver should make you scratch your head.
Brown’s 17-minute Facebook Live video in the locker room after the Steelers’ Divisional Round victory over the Kansas City Chiefs Jan. 17 was indeed “selfish,” as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin described it during the week.
It was also nowhere near as big a deal as mainstream outlets like ESPN and the NFL Network have predictably made it out to be, as the topic received round-the-clock coverage in the days leading up to the AFC Championship Game.
After the Steelers’ 36-17 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday night, Brown has found himself embroiled in another controversy. The NFL Network reported that Brown was “pouting” in the end zone after Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams scored the team’s first touchdown.
The league’s official network claimed Brown was upset because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t throw him the ball when he was open in the end zone. As it turns out, Brown wasn’t pouting — he actually had his arms up celebrating the touchdown as Williams broke the plane, as Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee pointed out on Twitter.
Brown retweeted McAfee’s screen grab, so he must be tired of the criticism he’s been absorbing over the past two weeks — most of which has been over-the-top and uncalled for.
In seven years with the Steelers since making the team as a sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Brown’s work ethic has never been questioned. All he’s done is rise from an undersized part-time receiver and return specialist to the best wide receiver in the NFL over the last four years, making no shortage of game-winning plays along the way.
In short, Brown has been more productive than any receiver in NFL history since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. The Steelers simply won’t be able to replace the dynamic playmaker in a trade, no matter what they get in return.
The 5-foot-10, 181-pound receiver has had 481 receptions over the last four years — an NFL record over a four-game span — while catching at least 100 passes in every season. He’s also tallied a league-best 6,315 yards and 43 touchdowns over that span.
But numbers aren’t enough to make a superstar worth the trouble. They have to get it done when the playoffs come around and the game is on the line, which Brown has done time and time again.
As a little-known rookie in 2010, Brown made the most pivotal reception in both of the Steelers’ playoff victories as they advanced to Super Bowl XLV. In the team’s 31-24 Divisional Round victory against the Baltimore Ravens, he used his helmet to pull in a 58-yard catch on third-and-19 to set up Rashard Mendenhall’s game-winning touchdown run.
Then, with the Steelers clinging to a 24-19 lead against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game one week later, Brown did it again, pulling in a diving catch on third-and-6 to seal the game and send the Steelers to the Super Bowl.
Brown became a fan favorite based on those two clutch plays, which helped spark the remarkable career he’s had to date. But he’s also provided plenty of late-game heroics since then.
With the season on the line in the Steelers’ Christmas Day clash with the Ravens last month, Brown caught a pass just in front of the end zone, fought off a tackle from three defenders and reached the ball over the goal line to deliver the Steelers a 31-27 victory and the AFC North Division title.
Then, with the Steelers holding on to an 18-16 lead against the Chiefs and needing just four yards to pick up a first down and advance to the AFC Championship, who did they call on? Brown, of course. The league’s most precise route runner slithered past Kansas City’s linebackers and sprinted across the middle of the field to haul in the game-clinching reception.
Brown’s 108-yard game against the Chiefs also gave him at least 100 yards receiving in four straight playoff games, tying an existing NFL record. Regular season numbers are one thing, but when the pressure rises and spotlight shines brightest, Brown has always come through.
Even in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, with Brown facing constant double-and triple-coverage from the league’s No. 1 scoring defense, he still finished with seven catches for 77 yards. He might not have made any of his trademark explosive plays, but those numbers still project to 112 catches for 1,232 yards over a full season — pedestrian numbers for Brown, but all-world stats for any other receiver.
With Brown receiving the full attention of the Patriots’ secondary, the onus was on the Steelers’ other receivers to step up and make plays, which they consistently failed to do.
Steelers fans might not want to hear it after all the controversy leading up to and following Sunday’s AFC Championship Game loss, but it’s important to remember the team never would have made it that far without Brown. He’s worth the trouble and then some.
The Steelers have all the pieces necessary to make another run at their seventh Super Bowl title next season. If they choose to trade away Brown over minor locker room controversies, they might as well say goodbye to those championship aspirations along with him.