Antonio Brown burned every bridge in sight during his exit from the Pittsburgh Steelers, but could a return to the team be feasible for one of the NFL's most mercurial players?
Mike Tomlin is not holding his breath.
The Pittsburgh Steelers discussed his former wide receiver and much more during an appearance on The Pivot Podcast. When asked about the possibility of Brown coming back to Pittsburgh, Tomlin was blunt:
"Y’all know that ain’t happening."
Tomlin appeared to concede that Brown could sign a one-day contract to retire a Steeler, but shot down any ideas about him suiting up in black and yellow again:
"In terms of putting a helmet on and running out of the tunnel and playing ball and stuff like that, man, he’s moved on, we’ve moved on. We can sit around and chop that up and pretend like that’s a realistic conversation, but we all know that’s not realistic, man.
“What I’ll say about AB is this, man. We had nine great years. I appreciate that dude in ways that I can’t explain to y’all. That I won’t even bother to attempt to explain to y’all because it sounds like I’m defending him in some way, and to me, from that standpoint, the nature of our relationship and what we all did together requires no defense. You could digest it however you want to digest it. [Tomlin blows a kiss.] You know what I mean?"
Brown infamously left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 last season and hasn't exactly conducted himself like a person who plans to play in the NFL again. He said he would not undergo a necessary ankle surgery until a team signs him in March and outright stated fans shouldn't expect to see him playing football this upcoming season in May.
He did indicate he wanted to retire with the Steelers, however.
Just wanna Retire A Steeler
— AB (@AB84) May 16, 2022
Would the Steelers organization be amenable to that? It remains to be seen, though Tomlin went out of his way to praise Brown as a player, while acknowledging things weren't handled well on the personal front. Notably, he used nothing but past tense:
"I don’t think enough gets said about the will of that dude. About the work ethic of that dude. About the fearlessness in which he played the game. Is fear ever a factor in his play? ... I've never seen him blink on the football field I've never seen him shy away from anything that was uncomfortable on the football field. I've only seen him run into burning buildings on the football field. We talk about all this other stuff, man, but we don't talk about that. Unbelievable will. Unbelievable work ethic. Unbelievable belief in himself. That's what I think about when I think about the nine years I spent with that dude.
"With success comes a lot of things. Some we deal with well, some we don't. Some he dealt with well, some of it he didn't. Some of it changed him in ways that were not as attractive. Someways he grew and grew in a big way ... Success is a slippery red carpet."
If this is really it for Brown, he'll retire with 928 career receptions, 12,291 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns, with seven Pro Bowl nods, a Super Bowl ring and a spot on the NFL's 2010s All-Decades Team. Pretty good for a 5-foot-10 sixth-rounder out of Central Michigan.
Brown's peak in Pittsburgh was one of the highest the sport of football has seen from a wide receiver, but even his most successful coaches are going to concede there are things he could have handled better.