Months ago, during the NFL’s offseason, I went on record to say that the once mighty Pittsburgh Steelers were a team in decline. Many ignored my comments, attributing my opinion to a mere dislike of the Steelers. However, this opinion was well thought out. At no point were any of my biases consulted in the crafting of this opinion. I saw what I interpreted to be a franchise on very thin ice, and a team filled to the brim with egotistical narcissists, that want nothing more than attention and affection, held together only by a cluttered win column. There was only one error included in my statements. I believed that the Steelers would return to the playoffs once more before plummeting into obscurity. It appears that their demise came early.
The downfall of the Pittsburgh Steelers was brought on by themselves. The team only stuck together while they were winning. But even in those circumstances, the incompatible ego-driven personalities butted heads. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued to play games, acting as if he was ready to retire. It should have been no surprise to him, after his numerous public comments about a possible retirement, that Pittsburgh selected his possible successor. Instead of doing the professional thing, and keeping his mouth shut, Roethlisberger did the polar opposite.
“I was surprised when they took a quarterback because I thought that maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” Roethlisberger said. “Nothing against Mason. I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid. I just don’t know how backing up or being the third — who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart — helps us win now. But that’s not my decision to make. That’s on the coaches and the GM and the owner and those kind of things. If they feel like he can help our team, so be it. But I was a little surprised.” (CBS Sports).
This, of course, would not be the last time Roethlisberger went on the air to criticize his team. This season, he returned to his radio show, (the same outlet where he issued his comments on Mason Rudolph) and openly criticized his teammates. He later said that he had “earned the right” to do so as if it’s even remotely acceptable for the team’s leader to attack his teammates in public.
While Roethlisberger was questioning why the Steelers would make a decision he forced them to make, another situation was in development. Steelers star running back, Le’Veon Bell, was getting ready to sit out of practice after being franchise tagged. Bell wanted a long-term deal from the Steelers, (nothing under $14.5 million per year, of course) something that Pittsburgh refused to give him. Instead of playing through his franchise tag, (worth $14.5 million for one year) Bell decided that it would best suit him to sit out of football for the year while lollygagging in Miami. In his vacation, Bell was often seen partying, riding jet skis, and of course, producing rap music videos (warning, explicit). This all makes sense because nothing pleases NFL general managers and coaches more than players dropping a team, and willingly missing a full season to party.
As the drama unfolded, wide receiver Antonio Brown only added to it. The receiver has done many questionable things in his career. There was his infamous live streaming of the team’s locker room and the flashy and pride fueled flaunting of his money. His former teammate, Ryan Clark, (now an ESPN analyst) recently recounted his monstrous actions in 2012. Clark testifies that when ex-Steeler and former Raven, Mike Wallace, left the team, he realized that Pittsburgh would pay Brown big money. He warned one of his coaches against it, and on the very same day, Brown screamed at defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau. He demanded that Lebaeu not to let his players touch him because he is “the franchise.”
Now, Antonio Brown once again finds himself in trouble. Brown was reportedly unhappy all season with the limited connections between Roethlisberger and himself. It also did not help that second-year wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, was blatantly upstaging him. This week, he reportedly got into an altercation with his quarterback and was benched for it. Now, sources are claiming that Brown asked for a trade. He took to social media, to respond to specific tweets and Instagram posts that refer to him being traded. He seemed to hint at a desire to be traded to San Francisco, as he “liked” an Instagram post with his name and number on a 49ers jersey, and glowingly responded to 49ers wide receiver George Kittle suggesting he come to the Bay Area. Roethlisberger says that he and Brown have no disputes, but it seems like the wide receiver thinks otherwise.
There’s only one person to blame for the collapse of the Steelers, the same man who allowed a toxic culture to infuse itself in the organization for the sake of winning. That man is none other than head coach, Mike Tomlin. Tomlin is a good coach when it comes to x’s and o’s, but it is obvious that he has no control over his team. His players constantly put their own interests before the team’s, and Tomlin does nothing but tolerate it. For years, Tomlin was able to hold his team together by just threads, as each key player moved in the opposite direction. Tomlin failed to nip the growing destructive force of egotism in the bud, and it seems that the inevitable finally happened. The Steelers dynasty is crumbling.
It is times like these where I can best appreciate what the Baltimore Ravens have. The Ravens have a coach in John Harbaugh, who through thick and thin, held his locker room together. The coach enjoyed the support of his team. That support held from his best years to his worst. When the Ravens missed the playoffs for three straight years, the group still rallied behind their coach. When that coach decided to draft a successor to his quarterback, that quarterback never made an ill-warranted comment. Joe Flacco handled the situation with as much class as humanly possible, and did nothing but help Lamar Jackson once the transition was made. The Ravens are a dramaless team in an age where drama filled teams get all the attention and praise. But as shown this season, Baltimore is better for it. After all, the Ravens are on the rise, and the Steelers are on the demise.