Pittsburgh Steelers: The future is bright without Antonio Brown

JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

With Antonio Brown now bound for Oakland, the Steelers must move forward without arguably the best receiver in the game. The future, however, is bright.

Antonio Brown is an enigma. He’s an enigma the Steelers just couldn’t deal with anymore. After his behavior, there was no choice but to trade the All-Pro receiver. The relationship severely crashed and burned between a lot of parties involved, including Antonio Brown himself, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Art Rooney II, and more. The scene in Pittsburgh has turned into a circus and trading away the loudest guy in the locker room seemed to be the most logical way to change the culture.

It helps when the loudest guy in the locker room has publicly made it clear that he no longer wants to be a part of the team. There was no “he goes or I go” ultimatum given by Brown. He simply wanted either cut or traded. He got the latter.

Now that he is gone, the question becomes “how do you move on?” It’s really hard to say goodbye to a player that produced at the level Brown did. The numbers he consistently put up are nearly impossible to replace.

First, the Steelers have a receiver ready to be the guy. His name is JuJu Smith-Schuster. And in case you weren’t sure if the guy is ready or not, JuJu didn’t wait long to publicly say he is.

JuJu put up amazing numbers last year, catching more passes for more yards than Antonio Brown in 2018. A key part of why his numbers were great was because of Brown getting a lot of attention on the other side of the field, but that is not an out for any anti-JuJu people.

JuJu is ready. He has all the tools to become a legitimate number one receiver in this league. Will he produce the same numbers Antonio Brown did in a Steelers uniform? It’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t count him out. JuJu has all the tangibles and intangibles needed to produce at a high level. 2018 was key for Big Ben and JuJu’s relationship, because now that’s going to be the first thing defenses prepare for every Sunday.

Another reason for optimism in 2019 is despite the Steelers only getting a third- and fifth-round pick for Brown, acquiring two more picks gives them TEN picks in the upcoming draft. Say what you will about this current regime and how they have drafted near the top, it doesn’t take much research to see how the Steelers have struck gold on a lot of players in later rounds. Some of those players are no longer in Steeler uniforms (Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant, and now Antonio Brown and Jesse James), but the Steelers have found great value in the draft this decade past the first two rounds. They’ve had some duds like Chris Rainey and a long snapper that didn’t even make the team. But guys like James Conner, Javon Hargrave, and Vince Williams have given the Steelers significant value in later rounds.

With ten picks in the upcoming draft, it gives the Steelers a lot of options. They could, of course, draft ten players. They could also package a couple draft picks to acquire current players in the league or trade up and get any additional higher picks. One thing that can’t be overstated for a team like the Steelers right now with the state they are in is having options. Having ten picks in the draft gives the Steelers options. This is a great thing.

There are many other reasons to get on board with life after Antonio Brown. The offense could become a bit more balanced and make James Conner a bigger focal point of the offense. They have a great offensive line that they just kept intact by giving Maurice Pouncey and Ramon Foster new contracts. Just because it’s a passing league doesn’t mean you can’t make the run game a huge part of your system. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the New Orleans Saints.

The defense still needs to be addressed, especially down the middle. With Tuesday being the first day of NFL free agency, the Steelers could make a move there to improve the defense or add depth to the receiver position with Brown now gone.

Most importantly, what can be done to improve the team on the field is key, but what’s even more important is the changes that need to happen off the field. Mike Tomlin’s handling of the Brown AWOL situation in week 17 might have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The changes that are being made (i.e. trading away your top receiver) indicates significant changes are being made not just to how the Steelers do things on the field, but off the field as well.

Next. Steelers set to trade up in NFL Draft. dark

Time will tell just how much change happens. The culture has needed to change for a while and now it seems it’s finally happening. The Steelers have enough pieces in place and resources to become not just a contender again, but also become a much more likable team.