PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers still haven’t decided whether there’s a path for wayward wide receiver Antonio Brown to return in 2019.
Not that it matters to Brown. He’s already made up his mind.
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press the perennial Pro Bowler has formally asked the Steelers for a trade, the latest move in a game of brinksmanship by the 30-year-old designed to force Pittsburgh to move him by the start of training camp this summer.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to publicly discuss personnel matters.
Brown appeared to make his decision official in a social media post released on Instagram on Tuesday. The video includes highlights from Brown’s career with the Steelers while lyrics from “Do What I Want” by rapper Lil Uzi Vert plays in the background.
— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 12, 2019
“SteelerNation thank you for nine big years!!!” Brown wrote. “Time to move on and move forward.”
The post came shortly after Brown was found guilty in absence on a charge of reckless driving in a suburban Pittsburgh court on Tuesday morning. Brown was charged in November for driving his black sports car over 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. He paid a $426.77 fine. Brown did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.
Brown still has three years remaining on the $72 million contract he signed in the spring of 2017, and remains one of the most dynamic performers in the league. He is the only player in NFL history with six consecutive 100-catch seasons and he hauled in 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and a franchise-record 15 touchdowns in 2018.
Still, Brown’s behavior became increasingly erratic last fall. The nadir came before Pittsburgh’s game against Cincinnati in Week 17. The team sent him home with an apparent leg injury on the Friday before the game and he failed to provide coach Mike Tomlin with an update until Sunday morning, when his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, let Tomlin know that Brown was available to play.
Tomlin opted to make Brown inactive and Brown did not show up to clean out his locker or conduct an exit interview with the coaching staff. He pulled out of the Pro Bowl with an injury and team president Art Rooney II indicated the team had been unable to make contact with Brown in the weeks after Pittsburgh finished 9-6-1 and failed to reach the playoffs.
Rooney, however, stressed last month he did not plan to “disparage” Brown and did not close the door on Brown’s possible return. That still might be the case, whether Brown wants to come back or not.
There is no major rush with another month before the new league year begins, though Pittsburgh could work out the parameters of a deal by March 13. Brown’s contract counts $21.12 million in 2019, a number that inches north to $23.62 if Brown receives a $2.5 million roster bonus he’s scheduled to receive on March 17.
The number seems daunting, but for once the Steelers are not right up against the salary cap thanks in large part to running back Le’Veon Bell’s decision to sit out 2018 rather than sign his one-year franchise tender. The $14.4 million Bell forfeited will roll over into 2019, giving Pittsburgh some flexibility to absorb a loss if Brown plays elsewhere.
Cutting Brown is almost certainly off the table, but what Brown could command on the trade market is uncertain. Pittsburgh received a third-round pick from Oakland last season for Martavis Bryant, who carried the weight of unmet expectations and a record that included multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Brown doesn’t have that kind of baggage, though his behavior in recent months could give potential suitors pause. The list of his transgressions in recent months includes a pending civil lawsuit in Florida claiming he hurled objects from the 14th floor of an apartment building that landed near a toddler; threatening an ESPN reporter through social media ; and his 100 mph sprint through the northern Pittsburgh suburbs on Nov. 8.
Several of Brown’s teammates, including second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, talked openly at the Pro Bowl about Brown remaining with the team that took a flyer on him in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft and helped him evolve into one of the best receivers of his generation. Brown apparently wants no part of a reconciliation.