PITTSBURGH — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that wide receiver Antonio Brown was benched Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals after he failed to show up for work Saturday and that the wide receiver hasn’t asked for a trade.
During his end-of-year news conference, Tomlin cited a “lack of communication” between Brown and the team and didn’t hide from the troubles his All-Pro receiver has caused. Asked if he thought Brown quit on the Steelers, Tomlin responded, “You know, you can describe it in whatever ways you want to describe it.
“Bottom line is we are playing a significant game, and he didn’t do a good job of communicating or being available in the hours leading up to that performance,” Tomlin said.
Outlining the latest layer of what has become a tumultuous 2018 season for Brown, Tomlin said Brown was dealing with knee, ankle and foot soreness and was rested in practices accordingly. The team sent Brown for an MRI on the knee Friday, but he did not show up for the examination and couldn’t be reached Saturday for the team’s walk-through and meetings.
“Woke up Sunday morning, got a call from his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Drew expressed that [Brown] was feeling better and that he would potentially be able to participate,” said Tomlin, who called himself an “active participant” in trying to reach Brown. “I outlined to Drew that decisions weren’t made like that, but I would be interested in visiting with him in person at the stadium prior to the game, but playing wasn’t on the menu.”
Tomlin heard that Brown had left the stadium early but couldn’t confirm that because he was focused on the game.
Tomlin made it clear that no changes are off the table, and when asked if there’s a point when Brown’s antics could outweigh his production, Tomlin said bluntly, “Certainly.”
“I’m not speculating on what life is going to be like going forward,” Tomlin said. “What I am going to do is address the circumstances and then move on from there.”
There is a growing sense around the league that a trade is a real possibility, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. A time frame of note would be March 18, five days days after the new league year begins, when Brown is due a $2.5 million roster bonus from the Steelers.
Brown hasn’t commented publicly on the situation, but he did tweet a seemingly inspirational message Wednesday while Tomlin was speaking to the media.
Brown is entering the third year of a five-year, $72.7 million extension and has a 2019 salary-cap hit of $22.1 million. Cutting or trading him would come at a cost of $21.1 million in dead money.
Tomlin fielded a barrage of Brown-related questions during a previously scheduled news conference to wrap up a disappointing 9-6-1 season that ended a four-year playoff streak.
“When you lack success, change is a part of it,” Tomlin said. “Part of moving forward is just wallowing in it.”
Tomlin said he wasn’t aware of any Brown blowups with teammates. A source said Brown “went off” in a team setting during the week, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported that Brown skipped meetings after throwing a football at a teammate and wasn’t actually injured.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle tweeted at Brown on Monday, following the Post-Gazette’s report, drawing a response from the receiver. On Wednesday, New York Jets safety Jamal Adams also tweeted at Brown.
Brown followed the 49ers’ account on Instagram on Wednesday (he isn’t following the Steelers’ account), and Adams was asked about his tweet on WFAN Radio.
“That dude is a star. Obviously, certain people have their opinion about him, but one thing I know, man: From watching and witnessing it, AB is gonna come to play. When he steps on that football field, it’s all business. Everything is about football with him. I would definitely love to see him come here,” Adams said.
Tomlin has coached Brown for nine seasons and watched him record an NFL-record six consecutive 100-catch seasons. But Tomlin has had to address several Brown-related issues over the years, including Brown’s decision to use Facebook Live to broadcast Tomlin’s postgame locker room speech after a 2017 playoff game.
Tomlin hasn’t heard from Brown since Sunday and wants to gather all information before making any decisions.
“There’s disappointment — there’s no denying that,” Tomlin said of his history with Brown and where he is with the team. “On a personal level, man, I’ve just learned over the course of time, forget my personal feelings. Or the challenges that come with the position. I don’t spend a lot of time focused on that. I better not.”
In an odd twist to the week’s proceedings, Fox aired the series premiere of “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday night, and Brown was revealed as the episode’s featured celebrity. It was unclear when the episode was filmed, but the series was taped over the summer.
In the series, celebrities perform songs while in disguise, and a panel attempts to guess who the singer is. In Brown’s case, he performed the ’80s R&B hit “My Prerogative” while dressed in a hippo costume.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.