In just five words, Antonio Brown has shifted the sporting attention in Pittsburgh from the Penguins’ disappointing playoff exit to the possibility of him returning to the Steelers.
The former Steelers’ All’Pro receiver expressed his desire to return to Pittsburgh via social media on Monday. He later clarified his initial post, stating that he just wants to retire with the Steelers, not play. Brown spent his first nine NFL seasons with the Steelers, where he was a seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and member of the Hall of Fame All-2010s Team.
Brown’s messy exit from Pittsburgh has largely overshadowed his on-field dominance during his Steelers tenure. The former sixth-round pick forced a trade out of Pittsburgh to the Raiders after he publicly criticized the Steelers organization numerous times following the 2018 season. Issues between the two sides began after Brown was suspended for the team’s regular-season finale after he missed practice in the days leading up to the game.
Mike Tomlin, Brown’s head coach for each of his nine seasons in Pittsburgh, was asked about a possible reunion with Brown during the 2020 offseason. At the time, Brown was a free agent after he was released by the Patriots after playing one game for them the previous season. Brown at that time was also dealing with a civil suit accusing him of sexual misconduct, among other things.
“I’ll say this: once a Steeler, always a Steeler,” Tomlin said on First Take. “We had great success over the course of nine-plus years with Antonio. We’re always going to be interested in his growth and development as a man and we’ll be open to assisting him in that, but we have no current business interest at this time.”
Brown ultimately signed with the Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl while serving as the team’s third receiving option. Similar to his endings in Pittsburgh, Oakland and New England, Brown’s time in Tampa came to an unceremonious end after he left the field while the game was still going on during a late-season clash with the Jets. Brown was released after the game and has yet to be re-signed.
Injuries and a 2020 suspension limited Brown to just 15 games over the past two seasons. During that span, Brown caught 87 of 124 targets for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 11.8 yards per catch. In nine seasons with the Steelers, Brown caught 837 passes for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns. From 2013-18, Brown averaged 114 receptions for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns per season.
Would the Steelers consider signing Brown beyond a ceremonious, one-day contract? It seems unlikely, given Brown’s 2019 exit, Tomlin’s 2020 comments and the fact that the Steelers don’t currently have a need at receiver. Brown may certainly get his wish to retire a Steeler, however. The Steelers did so with Santonio Holmes, a Super Bowl MVP who later played with the Jets and Bears, back in 2017.