PITTSBURGH — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that Antonio Brown was benched Sunday against Cincinnati after failing 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 he didn’t hide from the troubles his All-Pro receiver has caused. Asked if he thought Brown quit on the Steelers, Tomlin responded, “You can call it what you want to call it.”
Outlining the latest layer to what’s become a tumultuous 2018 season for Brown, Tomlin said Brown was dealing with knee, ankle and feet 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, who expressed that he was feeling better and would 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 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 clear that no changes are off the table, and when asked if there’s a point where Brown’s antics could outweigh his production, Tomlin said bluntly, “Certainly.”
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.
“When you lack success, change is a part of it,” said Tomlin when discussing the response from an unsuccessful 9-6-1 season that ended a four-year playoff streak. “Part of moving forward is just wallowing in it.”
Tomlin said he wasn’t aware of any Brown blow-ups with teammates. A source said Brown “went off” on a teammate 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.
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.
“There’s disappointment, there’s no denying that,” said Tomlin about his history with Brown and where he is with the team.