Even as the Steelers are moving forward having parted ways with a couple of high-maintenance guys in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the Cleveland Browns seem to be accumulating such players.
There are arguments to be made for both approaches. A final arbiter of comparative success will be the AFC North Division standings.
It had become apparent to all but the tone deaf that Bell and Brown had – most intentionally – positioned themselves as candidates for the Steelers to attempt addition by subtraction for the 2019 season.
Bell, a gifted running back, couldn’t be counted on to show up for training camp, or even the entire 2018 season. He wanted more money than the Steelers were willing to give and some of his offensive linemen went public with their displeasure regarding him the past September.
Now Bell is a New York Jet, having signed a four-year $52.5-million deal as a free agent.
As for Brown, he succeeded in making himself toxic to the organization for reasons including his spats with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers dealt him to the Oakland Raiders, where he was able to extract a three-year $50.125-million deal.
That’s a lot of cold cash, but it’s frostbitten feet, not hands, that have sidelined Brown so far this preseason. The story is that Brown was in a cryogenic treatment chamber without the proper footwear.
It is appropriate that Brown landed with the Raiders, who under former owner Al “Just win, baby” Davis had reveled in the image of being pro football’s halfway house for controversial players.
The difference is those Raiders used to win by taking chances on talented players other teams didn’t want for reasons of checkered behavior. More recent Raiders teams? Not so much.
It’s an unspoken rule in the NFL that the more talented a player is, the more his, shall we say personality foibles, will be tolerated.
But there are limits.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who drew criticism for his inability to tamp down locker-room division sown by Bell and Brown – especially Brown – said in March of the departed pair, “Relationships run their course.”
But there always is another suitor ready to give it a try, as the Bell and Brown situations have shown yet again.
Teams looking to achieve elusive success can find themselves spinning the roulette wheel, as is the case with the Cleveland Browns.
Winning has been a foreign concept for the second iteration of the Browns, a franchise eventually gifted to the city of Cleveland for the 1999 season after the original Browns had packed off to Baltimore following the 1995 campaign to be rechristened the Ravens.
Losing became extreme when the Browns backed up their
1-15 record in 2016 with an
0-16 mark in 2017.
But last year the Browns began the season with a tie against the Steelers and used a 5-2 stretch run to finish 7-8-1.
Key to the Cleveland turnaround was first-round draft pick, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who came to the pros after a college career with the Oklahoma Sooners during which he had won a Heisman Trophy
Baker also had found himself apologizing for incidents in college ranging from directing a crotch grab at the Kansas bench, to planting an Oklahoma flag on the Ohio State field after a win there, to getting arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, an example that included him being sacked by a cop as he attempted to run away.
Just last week Mayfield was captured on the Jumbotron screen at a Cleveland Indians game chugging a beer, apparently in impressive fashion. Some spoilsports questioned the decorum of that considering his past and the fact that football season is nigh.
It’s not just Mayfield. The Browns traded for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., after the New York Giants had tired of his mercurial ways and deemed him to be more of a distraction than he was worth.
The Browns also picked up discarded Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt in February. But Hunt won’t be playing until the second half of the season, having been tagged with an eight-game suspension from the league after a video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman.
That’s why the Chiefs showed Hunt the door. The Browns were only too happy to throw open their door to him.
This created an unhappy Browns running back in Duke Johnson, who requested a trade, a request the Browns honored by dealing him to the Houston Texans last week.
Presumably the Browns believed they already had filled their quota of players likely to create distractions.