The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the postseason for the first time in five years, and the letdown of 2018 can be widely attributed to a drama-filled locker room.
It all started when Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell sat out Week 1, following a failure to reach an agreement on a new contract with the Steelers. Bell promised numerous times that he would return soon, but the 26-year-old simply decided to sit out all of 2018 instead.
Then, it turned out that the Steelers had to deal with Antonio Brown's selfish antics and behavior as well. He's only been the best wide receiver in the NFL since 2014. Ben Roethlisberger only helps Brown rack up annual 100-catch and 1,000-yard seasons. Oh, and the Steelers have given Brown premium opportunities to compete for a Super Bowl every year.
Brown played the me-first game numerous times throughout the year. He tweeted "Trade me let's find out," in response to a Twitter troll who said Brown wouldn't put up such great stats on another team.
Brown's most inexcusable antic game during the final days of the regular season. He was initially ruled out for Sunday's Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals because of a knee injury.
But according to Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Brown was actually benched for skipping practices and meetings before the Week 17 contest. Brown became angry at Roethlisberger during a practice last week, which culminated with the Pro Bowl wideout throwing a football in the direction of his quarterback.
As a result, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters on Wednesday that Brown was benched for the game. Roethlisberger and another unnamed player said that Brown never returned their phone calls and text messages.
There's no excuse for Brown to be putting himself before the team. The Steelers have let him get away with such antics in the past. They gave him a four-year extension worth $68 million in the 2017 offseason - a clear sign the organization respected and valued Brown enough to make him a piece of their Super Bowl quest.
But even though he has every reason to be happy with the Steelers, Brown just doesn't seem like he cares enough to stay in Pittsburgh. That's why it's time or GM Kevin Colbert to field offers and trade his star receiver.
The Steelers decided not to meet Bell's demands, and it actually did wonders for them. Second-year running back James Conner rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing three games. Pittsburgh showed they can win without a star player who put himself before the team.
Throw in Conner with breakout performers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald, and the Steelers have more than enough talent on offense to get by. They can win without Brown in 2019 and beyond.
Remember, the Steelers had no problem trading Super Bowl XLIII champion and MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets in 2010 - a year after his big game heroics. Holmes was coming off a career year with the Steelers at the time of the trade, but Tomlin and the front office decided they couldn't deal with his attitude anymore.
So why should the Steelers keep Brown around? They have plenty of stars that can keep the group competitive. This is an organization that always finds stud wideouts in later rounds. Brown is replaceable in the Steel City, whether he likes it or not.
Keep in mind Brown turns 31 this offseason, and his cap hit over the next three years is $21.12, $14.08 and $7.04 million. He could slow down at any point now, and the Steelers would save themselves valuable cap space if they were to trade Brown.
So really, what incentive do they have to keep Brown? Even if he's an elite playmaker on the field, it gets cancelled out with the drama he causes in the locker room. Don't try telling me Pittsburgh can't replace Brown. Of course they can. Roethlisberger took his game to another level after losing stud wideouts Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in the 2013 and 2014 offseasons, respectively.
Pittsburgh won its last two Super Bowls on the basis of a great defense. Led by T.J. Watt, that unit they have now is one of the best in all of football. Roethlisberger doesn't need to play at an MVP level for this team to win championships. He'll fare just fine with Conner, McDonald and Smith-Schuster.
The Steelers don't have to make many drastic changes this offseason. We know the roster is good enough to win. The only thing to fix is the locker room - and the solution is to trade Brown and rid themselves of any more drama that he could cause.