By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Remember, if you can, a time long ago, when a “bombshell” story revealed the crumbling foundation of the New England Patriots dynasty. Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, and Bill Belichick all hated each other; “lingering sadness” just would not stop lingering; the Patriots were “threatening to come undone the only way possible: from within.” It was, as the headline blared, “The Beginning Of The End.”
It was a captivating story, one with a gripping narrative, and it gave us all plenty to talk about. Alas, since it came out, the Patriots made two Super Bowls, winning one of them, and appear to very much still be on their unparalleled track of sustained success.
Meanwhile, some 500 miles west of Foxboro, it was another Pro Bowl quarterback from a perennial AFC contender who was tearing his team apart.
That’s not the word of some anonymous sources and team staffers; it is instead the word of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in NFL history, both of whom said that Ben Roethlisberger played a role in their desires to leave the Steelers and play elsewhere.
Most recently, Bell spoke with Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated, and he went deep on why exactly he wanted out of Pittsburgh badly enough to sit out for an entire football season. While the attitude of the starting quarterback was far from the only reason, Bell said it did contribute to his decision.
“Yes, it was a factor,” Bell told Vrentas.
Bell told Vrentas that Roethlisberger seemed to consider himself to be on a different level than the rest of the players in the locker room.
“Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is,” Bell said. “[But] you’re still a teammate at the end of the day. You’re not [general manager] Kevin Colbert. You’re not [team president Art] Rooney.”
That sentiment pairs well with what Brown said after the All-Pro receiver forced a trade out of Pittsburgh. In a sitdown interview with ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, Brown remained bothered that Ben Roethlisberger blamed the receiver’s route-running for a terrible interception in the end zone that led to a Pittsburgh loss in Denver.
“On a professional level, it is like, yo, if I’m your guy, make me know I’m your guy. But don’t say I’m your guy and then point a finger. Don’t say I’m your guy and then don’t throw me the ball the whole first quarter,” Brown told Darlington. “I would’ve liked for me and Ben to be cool. I thought we was cool. But when I think, I’ve only been to his house one time. He’s been to my house one time. We don’t work out in the offseason. It’s like yo, if we really want to win, you think that’s winning? That’s not winning.”
Brown also expressed frustration that the GM of the team said that Roethlisberger is the “elder statesman” of the Steelers and “has 52 kids under him.”
“It pretty much explained what I had already told everyone. He just confirmed it,” Brown said. “Of course he tried to clarify it because he knows he stated the truth and he’s gonna backpedal on his words. But what ideally grown man is calling another grown man a kid? Fifty-two kids. Like … like you don’t have no respect for these guys? Like, these are the guys that go to work for you. And that’s what I’m telling you guys — that’s my issue, you know what I’m saying? It’s all about respect. It’s just the principle. That’s like if I call you a kid; like, bro, out of respect, how would you feel? You’re a professional; how would you feel?”
Bell added on to the issues from Roethlisberger.
“The organization wants to win. Tomlin wants to win. Ben wants to win — but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with,” Bell told Vrentas. “Ben won a Super Bowl, but he won when he was younger. Now he’s at this stage where he tries to control everything, and [the team] let him get there. … So if I’m mad at a player and I’m not throwing him the ball — if I’m not throwing A.B. the ball and I’m giving JuJu [Smith-Schuster] all the shine or Jesse [James] or Vance [McDonald] or whoever it is, and you know consciously you’re making your other receiver mad but you don’t care — it’s hard to win that way.”
Or, as Brown put it when he was on “The Shop” with LeBron James, “The type of guy he is. He feels like he’s the owner.”
Take all of that, add in that former Steelers running back Josh Harris said Roethlisberger fumbled intentionally when he didn’t get to take a kneeldown (a story which Ryan Clark said could be true), and then consider that the Steelers missed the playoffs entirely in 2017 and that Mike Tomlin does not appear to be the right person to manage locker room issues … then one has to wonder exactly what the state of the proud Pittsburgh franchise is as the team heads toward the 2019 season with Roethlisberger under center.
From the outside, it appears as though it’s bad enough for Bell to seek out a new start with the Jets (4-12 last year; zero playoff wins in past eight seasons) and for Brown to be happy with his new situation with the Raiders (4-12 last year; zero playoff wins over past 16 seasons).
Since the issues among Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell really began to fester, the Steelers have been upset at home by the Jaguars in the divisional round and have failed to make the postseason field for the first time in five years and the fourth time during Tomlin’s 12-year tenure.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are reportedly working on an extension for Roethlisberger. At the very least, given that two All-Pro offensive talents have stated that they felt alienated by the quarterback, it will be interesting to see how Roethlisberger affects the team — good, bad, or otherwise — in the coming years.