As Antonio Brown plays defense on Twitter this week, running out the clock until the moment his promised, explosive interview is set to air, it brings to light one of the undeniable truths about the NFL: Team chemistry is such a fleeting concept. The coaches, owners and executives who are able to make everyone feel involved and invested over a long period of time are truly rare.
On Wednesday, Steelers president Art Rooney II sounded increasingly defeated when it came to the prospect of Brown returning in 2019. This is a team with a quarterback who, at most, has one more mid-range contract left in him, and with an extraordinarily talented offensive line that features three starters in their 30s.
From the outside looking in, every sensible solution begins and ends with talking the problem out, and bringing the team together for one last shot—essentially, a version of the scab Pittsburgh has been band-aiding over for the last several years. But as hard as it is for us to fathom, the machinations of a modern football team—everything from the heightened attention and focus on every player to the publicly available salary structure—sometimes make it impossible.
Brown obviously has his doubts, not only about former teammates and coaches, but the level of concern his organization currently has for him. Those feelings have seemingly manifested into the equivalent of a talented lead guitarist leaving his band. Of course there’s great music left to be made, but that group, as assembled, just can’t make music together anymore.
In time, we’ll see who is right. Brown is only 30, but is among the upper crust of athletes who could seemingly be a dominant presence in the league into his mid-30s. There have been similar players who have had wonderful second acts after leaving their original team behind.
When that happens, though, there will always be the thought: What might have happened if we just laid our cards on the table and stuck together? Of course, anyone who feels that way has a hard time understanding how the grind of a few long seasons can wear on a group. Who gets the credit. Who gets the blame. Who gets to have the most input. Who makes the most money. Who gets away with more.
We’ll see how Brown explains it when that interview finally airs. Perhaps this recent Twitter war with Emmanuel Sanders is the beginning of the breadcrumb trail he’s leaving for us to follow. Either way, his interpretation of the current distance between himself and the franchise will be fascinating to hear. There are, after all, so many ways it can go wrong.
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