Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown might be on borrowed time during the offseason.
In an exclusive interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steelers president Art Rooney II said Thursday the team would not release Brown.
Rooney, however, said Steelers will “look at all the options” on how to deal with Brown, who did not play in the regular-season finale.
“There’s not much we can do right now; we have time to make a decision,” Rooney said, via Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette. “We’ll look at all the options. We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.
“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen. We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”
Brown made headlines after the Week 17 game when it was revealed he did not attend the team’s Saturday walkthrough practice leading to the matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals and then left the game at halftime after he had been declared inactive.
The Post-Gazette points out that Brown has not taken repeated telephone calls from Rooney and head coach Mike Tomlin, who expressed disappointment over the situation during his end-of-season press conference last week.
When the Post-Gazette asked directly if the Steelers would explore trading Brown, Rooney declined to categorize it as such.
“I’m not going to use those words,” Rooney said. “All options are on the table. We have two months to go before we can do anything. There’s no sense making the decision now. We’ll see how things play out. Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day and we learn more about where he is. We’ll see.”
One thing Rooney has a hard time seeing, however, is Brown being available when the Steelers open training camp in late summer.
“As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that,” Rooney said. “But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today. There’s snow on the ground. We don’t have to make those decisions right now.”
What could ultimately prompt the Steelers to make a decision surrounds the league’s new calendar year, which begins March 13. Brown, who signed a five-year extension in 2017, will earn a base salary of $12.6 million in 2019 and is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 17.
Brown is scheduled to count $22 million against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2019, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport pointed out Sunday that the Steelers would save $1 million in cap space — an estimated $22 million to keep him, $21 million cap hit to trade him — and create a projected $15 million in savings.
The Steelers president, however, indicated that the salary-cap consequences would not have an underlying role in any decision.
“That has to be taken into consideration, but, as I sit here today, I’m not going to say that’s going to box us into anything,” Rooney said. “If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”
Brown’s situation only adds to the headache that the Steelers endured the past season. In addition to dealing with missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Steelers played the entire season without running back Le’Veon Bell, who elected to sit out after not signing his franchise tender.
Pittsburgh finished the year at 9-6-1, which included the season finale win over the Bengals without Brown.
UPDATE: Shortly after the Post-Gazette published its interview with Rooney, Brown posted a picture on Instagram of himself with Rooney from when he signed his extension in 2017.