Labriola On

Labriola on letting it soak, thinking about it

Ready or not, here it comes:

• When Dan Rooney decided to write a book, which eventually came to be titled, “Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL,” I was enlisted to help with some of the legwork. And if that sounds mundane, in truth it was anything but, because I got to conduct interviews with some knowledgeable football people.

• And because those sit-downs were preceded by a phone call from Dan Rooney to the subject of the interview, and when he told the individual to be forthcoming and honest with me, well, I learned a lot about the Steelers and the business of professional football along the way.

• One of the many people who gave of themselves in those interviews was Joe Greene, and I’ll always remember what he said when I asked him what Dan Rooney was like as a boss.

• “A great boss,” is how Greene began, before adding, “I never forget him saying that when you have big decisions to make, let it soak. Think about it. He said that when teams lose, it’s not always the head coach’s fault, and good head coaches are hard to come by. Give them time.”

• On the heels of a disappointing 2018 season that included no trip to the playoffs, the Steelers have big decisions to make. One of the biggest involves what to do with Antonio Brown.

• Some fans, some media already have made their decisions on whether the Steelers’ immediate future will and/or should include Brown, but there has been nothing official from the team. And there shouldn’t be anything official from the team because there need not be anything official from the team in the first week of January. It’s not necessary to make this kind of a decision at this time, and there is no benefit to making this kind of a decision at this time.

• Coach Mike Tomlin referred to information-gathering when asked about Brown at his season-ending news conference a couple of days ago, and there are several aspects of this situation where more information is needed before making a decision in an effort to solve the problem.

• There is the player personnel aspect, the chemistry aspect, the discipline aspect, and the precedent aspect, to name just four.

• The player personnel aspect has to do with whether the Steelers roster could absorb the loss of Antonio Brown and still be able to put a team on the field in 2019 that’s capable of competing for a championship. Re-watch the game against the Saints in New Orleans, and then the game against the Bengals at Heinz Field, and the answer would seem to be an emphatic no.

• With Brown catching 14 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, the Steelers were maybe a lost fumble in the final 40-some seconds away beating the best team in the NFL in its home dome, while the next week the offense had trouble scoring against a Bengals defense ravaged by injuries to its best players. The Steelers wouldn’t be able to trade Brown for fair value, and by the time draft picks could mature enough to become Pro Bowl caliber, who knows where Ben Roethlisberger may be in his career.

• The chemistry aspect has to do with how Brown’s teammates feel about him following a series of tantrums/absences culminating in his no-show actions in the days leading up to the finale against the Bengals and whether they perceive that as “quitting on them.”

• When Tomlin was asked at his news conference about whether Brown’s actions rose to the level of “quitting on the team,” he said, “You can describe it any way you want to describe it, but there was a lack of communication there that can lead to thoughts and things of that nature that can go in many directions. The bottom line is we were playing a significant game, and he didn’t do a good enough job of communicating or being available in the hours leading up to that (game), so we needed to make decisions pertinent to play in that game.”

• Cam Heyward unquestionably is one of the veteran leaders of the current mix of personalities/egos in the locker room, and during his regular appearance on WDVE-FM, he said, “We all want AB here, but to be a part of this team you can’t do that. You don’t let your brothers down. It hurt more knowing that there were multiple people in that locker room giving everything they’ve got. … I think everybody wants AB on the team, but we’ve got to be on the same page. From the top to the bottom we all have to be accountable for it. I’m sure [General Manager] Kevin [Colbert], Coach [Mike] Tomlin will be talking to him. Going forward that’s unacceptable. We all sign up for this game and we all sign up to be part of this team.”

• Ben Roethlisberger also has come out publicly in support of having Brown on the team in 2019. During his weekly radio appearance, Roethlisberger addressed a report about Brown being upset during a walk-through on the Wednesday before the Bengals game: “People are making a big deal about a walk-through. If there was a blowup, I sure as heck didn’t see it. I’m not sure where that came from. I talked to AB Thursday morning. Everything was great and fine. I’m not sure where this blow-up is coming from.”

• Roethlisberger then concluded with: “I’m obviously not the coach and the owner. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I love Antonio and wish him nothing but the best. I hope he’s back with me because he makes me better.”

• The discipline aspect would become a factor if/when the decision is made to keep Brown, because laying out a specific plan to keep him on the straight and narrow and having a plan just as specific that details punishments should he deviate is critical to maintaining locker room chemistry because everyone needs to understand there are going to be consequences and what those consequences are going to be.

• The Steelers could set a schedule of fines for unexcused absences from practices and/or meetings, for missing treatment, for skipping scheduled MRIs, for being unreachable leading up to a regular season game, as was the case before the Dec. 30 finale vs. the Bengals. Fines can become as high as a game check, and the Steelers also could be able to go after part of Browns’ $19 million signing bonus that was part of the four-year, $68 million contract he signed on Feb. 27, 2017, per the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for conduct detrimental to the team.

• And the precedent aspect is also something important to the Steelers, because they typically are mindful not to break any of the organization’s core philosophies to accommodate an individual player. For example, asking/demanding to be traded isn’t something to be granted, because it then sets a precedent, just as would be re-negotiating a non-quarterback’s contract before said player is entering the final season on his existing deal.

• These are just some of the elements to be investigated and worked out before a decision can or should be made, and there is time to do their due diligence because free agency doesn’t begin until March 13, which is more than nine weeks away; and the Steelers could owe Brown a $2.5 million bonus if he’s on the roster on March 17, which is four days after that; and the draft doesn’t begin until April 25, which is almost six full weeks after that.

• Let it soak. Think about it.

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