Antonio Brown spent 2019 forcing his way off two teams and being released by a third team. So far, he’s spent the first two months of 2020 as he looks to resume his NFL career. While Brown still has to overcome a legal hurdle (his civil suit accusing him of sexual misconduct and rape), the former Pittsburgh Steelers star continues to train in hopes of being on an NFL roster in 2020.
On Monday, during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Brown’s coach during his first nine NFL seasons, was directly asked if the Steelers would ever consider a reunion with Brown, who is No. 2 in franchise history in career receptions (837), yards (11,207) and touchdowns (74). With Brown on the roster, the Steelers qualified for the playoffs six times, won four division titles, appeared in one Super Bowl while also making two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
“I’ll say this: once a Steeler, always a Steeler,” Tomlin said of Brown, the Steelers’ sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft. “We had great success over the course of nine-plus years with Antonio. We’re always going to be interested in his growth and development as a man and we’ll be open to assisting him in that, but we have no current business interest at this time.”
While the prospects of Brown having a second act in Pittsburgh are still slim, Tomlin refused to rule out a potential reunion. Tomlin by all accounts had a good working relationship with Brown during their time together in Pittsburgh. Tomlin and the Steelers are also in the business of winning, and if Brown continues to show growth both professionally and (most important) personally, he may very well receive a call from the Steelers somewhere down the road.
Steelers fans, however, shouldn’t be holding their breath with regard to Brown coming back to the Steelers. While they’ve done it on several occasions (examples being Chad Brown, Willie Williams, and Plaxico Burress), the Steelers usually don’t bring back players once their time in the black and gold is over. While Brown has recently apologized for his actions, it doesn’t erase the disparaging things he said about Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers’ organization after he forced a trade from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Brown also continues to fire criticism at receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has never publicly said anything disparaging about Brown.
The Steelers would also have to feel that their current crop of receivers isn’t getting the job done before even considering bringing Brown back into the fold. While they are in the market for a veteran receiver, the Steelers will likely look to avoid spending a significant amount of salary cap space to acquire one. Pittsburgh, according to Over The Cap, currently have just over $2.5 million in cap space with free agency one month away. Instead, Pittsburgh will likely look to the draft — where they’ve found arguably more success than any other NFL team at the wide receiver position — at least certainly from a draft value standpoint.
Pittsburgh’s current culture is another thing Tomlin and the Steelers would consider before bringing Brown back into the fold. While his play on the field certainly contributed to the team’s success last decade, several Steelers publicly stated how refreshing the 2019 season was to get more of the focus back on football and away from the drama-filled questions that dominated the locker room near the end of Brown’s time with the team. While the perceived drama wasn’t always the fault of Brown, he certainly contributed to many of the distractions that undoubtedly impacted the team in a negative way.
Rest assured that, if the Steelers ever considered bringing Brown back, the team’s leaders — Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, etc. — would ultimately have a say in whether or not that would actually happen.