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Around the AFC North: Steelers agree to trade Antonio Brown and allow Le’Veon Bell to hit free agency

Somehow Ben Roethlisberger will be the last man standing from Pittsburgh’s triplets.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is a special edition of around the AFC North.

If you frequent this kind of post, I usually like to pick something interesting going on with each team in the division, but the Steelers are being media hogs this week. They have dominated headlines for pretty much the entire offseason, but it has really come to a head this week. We’ll start off with probably the longest running dispute in the news this week for Pittsburgh.

Le’Veon Bell will finally get his wish of hitting free agency

This isn’t super surprising, but it has still been two whole seasons in the making. The Steelers have franchise tagged Bell the past two seasons, including last year when he held out the entire season. The franchise tag was out of the question this season, as it becomes more and more expensive to use that on a player each season you consecutively tag the same player.

What some had speculated is that Pittsburgh could use the transition tag so they could hypothetically match whatever offer Bell got on the open market or force a team to have to trade for Bell.

Considering Bell literally just sat out an entire season, it seems pretty smart to not risk having any cap space tied up in a guy who clearly doesn’t want to play for you. Bell went straight to social media with his excitement.

There are a large amount of people who will criticize Bell for sitting out an entire season. He ended up passing up around $14 million in guaranteed money. He bet on himself though, and knowing how Pittsburgh would run him into the ground when they expected him back next season, imagine how many touches he’d have with the team not having to care about his future.

Bell had over 400 total touches in 15 games during the 2017 season and over 300 touches in the 12 games he played in 2016. Imagine what a serious injury would’ve done for his value.

We will find out if Bell’s bet paid off this offseason. If he can secure a long term contract with plenty of guaranteed money, then it is pretty easy to say Bell made the right move.

Steelers’ GM gives Roethlisberger green light to criticize anyone

It has come to light recently via a few former Steelers’ that Mike Tomlin doesn’t exactly run the tightest ship, which has been obvious to any Bengals fan. Antonio Brown even went as far as to tweet this:

Brown seems to be pretty much living proof of that. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that all of the sudden Brown has been framed as this more-trouble-than-he-is worth wide receiver.

Roethlisberger hasn’t been shy about calling out players. He has done it in post game interviews, but more commonly he does it on his radio show. It is something even Hines Ward called Roethlisberger out about.

What makes it worse is it is now public that at least the front office supports this with general manager Kevin Colbert’s recent comments.

“I think that once you win it, you’ve got 53 guys who can say what it took. Right now, he’s the only one, so I have no problem with him,” Colbert told reporters. “He can call me out and that’s fine. What he does, I totally respect because I see him too many times win games for us and come through in situations. That’s why I talked about the Jacksonville game. He brought that team in. It was hot. It was nasty, and they weren’t allowed to get water. It was that immediate. Everybody over here right now. And the speech he made and the challenges he made, he backed up because he played better in the second half. He didn’t play well in the first half, and he said, ‘I’m the first one that needs to look in the mirror, and the rest of you better, too.’ So I have absolutely no problem with him.”

This just isn’t acceptable behavior by any other team in the NFL. As many have pointed out, it is totally different to talk guys through something in private, but to blast it out there into the world is one way to get yourself a locker room that is full of conflict, which Pittsburgh has successfully accomplished.

It’s also just so strange for a team to side with a quarterback who has already had his best seasons and likely doesn’t have too much left in the tank over young stars in their prime like Brown and Bell. The Steelers have dug their own grave at this point.

Steelers agree to trade Brown

Now the real fun begins, as we wait to see who will trade for Brown. There have been plenty of analyst and fans who scoff at the idea of bringing in a player like Brown, but he is easily one of the best receivers in the NFL.

Pittsburgh also seems to think they should get significant compensation, but the odds of that aren’t great. The fact is Brown having a huge contract means a team is committing a large amount of cap to him, and he will be 31 by the time the season starts. That isn’t to say they won’t get something good for him, but if there is anyone expecting anything better than a first round pick (at best) prepare to be disappointed.

This saga obviously isn’t over like the Bell one is for Pittsburgh. One could argue that it has just begun. The deadline to watch is March 17th. That is when Brown’s roster bonus becomes guaranteed. If Pittsburgh moves him prior to that, they save roughly $1 million in cap space, but if they trade him after that, they lose about $1 million in cap space. It isn’t much, but when he is already going to count for $21.1 million in dead cap space anyway, you take what you can get.

Keep an eye on NFC teams in need of a receiver as Pittsburgh likely won’t be motivated to keep Brown in the same conference as them. Someone like Green Bay, San Francisco or even the Cardinals could very well be in play for the disgruntled receiver.

It sure will be nice not to have to worry about Brown anymore when the Bengals play the Steelers twice a season.