Antonio Brown’s worth, production and the shenanigans that fall in between the two are sure to be the subject of many offseason debates between now and the start of training camp in July.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“About Three Bricks Shy of a Load” is what Roy Blount titled his acclaimed book on the 1973 Steelers. That title also could describe their 2016 counterparts.
Taken at face value, it would mean they came up just short of the mother lode, the Super Bowl. That was true in a sense in ‘73 as it is now. But then, there is another modern meaning of the term as explained in McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions:
“Stupid; dense; shortchanged on intelligence.”
That might be a little strong to describe the 2016 Steelers, but there were some instances that could fall under those categories. Take the season-long suspension of wide receiver Martavis Bryant for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, or the three-game suspension for Le’Veon Bell for failing those tests, his second consecutive suspension to start a season.
Then there were the various Antonio Brown shenanigans involving penalized celebrations and constant warnings about illegal shoes, his walking back to the huddle in Miami and various reports of his pouting when the ball did not come his way.
Nothing, though, topped Brown’s Facebook Live production from the locker room in Kansas City. It brought a strong rebuke from Mike Tomlin, who said he hoped Brown would not be one of those players who goes from team to team because of such things.
All in all, though, it was a good season in which Tomlin held his team together and kept their eyes on the prize after they lost four in a row and various players to injury to dip to 4-5. They responded by winning nine in a row that took them all the way to the AFC championship in Foxborough, Mass., where the New England Patriots again ended their season one game short of a Super Bowl visit.
They can take that next step in 2017 but they will need help in order to do so. Let’s take a look.
It became obvious that the defense was not up to the task of stopping Tom Brady and the Patriots. Who is? The Steelers are going to have to become that defense if they are to beat a 40-year-old Brady in the AFC championship a year from now.
They need another pass-rushing outside linebacker. Jarvis Jones will not likely get another contract and while they will welcome the return of James Harrison, they won’t want to count on him full time at age 39. Bud Dupree is a keeper. Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats are capable backups, but they played little down the stretch as the Steelers went with Harrison and Dupree nearly all the time. They need someone to work in with Harrison and eventually take over. That player may have to come in the first round again.
At inside linebacker, re-sign Lawrence Timmons to a two-year contract at a more reasonable rate than his last one and they are set there. Even if they cannot keep Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams give them a one-two that should work.
They should add yet another cornerback and say goodbye to William Gay, who faded down the stretch capped by a terrible performance in New England. Maybe Senquez Golson will finally be healthy for his third season and join Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell, a restricted free agent they will keep. Nevertheless, the Steelers need to keep adding to the list.
With Cam Heyward’s return, the defensive line is strong. What they need are backups, but those are not a top priority.
Ben Roethlisberger isn’t retiring and if they can re-up Landry Jones as his backup, they are set. However, there now becomes a possibility the Steelers could begin a search for their next quarterback, although the position is not a strength in this draft.
They need to add a wide receiver, and there are some good ones in the draft, preferably a taller one, 6-3 or 6-4. If Martavis Bryant is reinstated, they will welcome him back but with his history they cannot count on him to be there; if he is, it’s a bonus. Markus Wheaton won’t return. Sammie Coates has potential if he can regain his confidence and buckles down to learn his playbook. Eli Rogers will remain the slot receiver. Others like Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers? It depends on whom they add at wide receiver and Bryant’s availability.
Brown’s antics are wearing thin on some of his teammates and certainly his coaches. He has one year left on his contract and they promised him this would be the year they negotiate an extension for him. What will he want and what will they be willing to pay? Brown has them over one large barrel.
While Brown may ruffle some feelings, he never let it affect his play and he remains one of the hardest workers on the team — and has not missed a game to injury the past four seasons, except for the concussion sustained in the 2015 postseason.
Without Brown, the Steelers really have no receivers they can count on. And drafting even a good one guarantees nothing.
Nope, it would appear they have to swallow hard, sign him and hope he continues to perform as one of the NFL’s best receivers as he turns 29, and that his antics are limited to those they can live with.
Le’Veon Bell’s contract is up and they will either come to terms on a long-term deal or franchise him and keep him for at least one more year. They also could franchise him and come to terms on a long-term deal afterward, something they did with LaMarr Woodley. Also, they will need a backup to Bell because DeAngelo Williams, whose contract expires, is not expected back.
It is possible tight end Ladarius Green won’t return either. His headaches and concussion issues make his future cloudy and the Steelers cannot count on him for 2017. He is in the same boat for different reasons as Martavis Bryant, in that he will be a bonus if he can help them next season.
The good news for the Steelers at that position is Jesse James. His play improved as his second season unwound to the point where he can be the No. 1 tight end next season.
The best news for them is that their entire offensive line is intact for 2017. All they must do is offer Alejandro Villanueva a one-year minimum-wage contract to return as their left tackle because he is an exclusive rights free agent who cannot leave. They might think of trying to sign him to a long-term deal as they did with Antonio Brown after his second season.
The only other issue for their line would be to get a few backups on board.
They are close to competing for that seventh Lombardi and once again should be the second-favorite in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl. The problem for the Steelers is New England. Maybe they can find a way to get over the hump, the way they did the season after “About Three Bricks Shy of a Load.”
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