There’s a lot of speculation flowing around about the futures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
It starts with people assuming that they are somehow bad teammates, nothing of which could be further from the truth.
While both have had issues, be it Bell getting suspended or Brown videoing Mike Tomlin’s locker room speech, they don’t necessarily cause issues in the locker room.
It’s not like, after all, either has been accused of rape.
You want distractions? That was a distraction.
And Ben Roethlisberger’s teammates got over it. Some fans never have - and there were never any charges - but Roethlisberger’s teammates welcomed him back with open arms, despite having to spend months answering questions about the situation.
The Steelers contemplated cutting or attempting to trade Roethlisberger over the situation but eventually decided to keep their star quarterback because they believed in him and he gave them the best chance to win.
The people wanted to trade Brown or allow Bell to leave as a free agent need to explain things in those terms.
How does not having either or both of those players in 2017 help the Steelers win?
The answer is, quite simply, it doesn’t, in either case.
People saying Brown and or Bell aren’t good teammates need to understand that early in his career, Roethlisberger wasn’t necessarily a good teammate.
There was more than one player in that locker room that didn’t care for the young quarterback. He could be aloof. He could be difficult to deal with.
But Roethlisberger made a concerted effort to change. He made an effort to become one of the guys. He worked harder to become a better teammate.
He’s done so. And in the process, he has become a better player, as well.
Which brings us back to Brown and Bell.
Not having either back makes no sense for this team.
At 24, Bell is the best running back in the league. Yes, he’s had issues in the past. Yes, he’s gotten dinged up here and there.
But he seems to have put his issues behind him. In fact, he has worked doubly hard perhaps because he knows he has something to prove following his missteps.
And nobody appreciates his hard work more than his teammates.
As for getting nicked up, when you do as much as Bell has, it’s inevitable.
Despite missing three games because of suspension and one due to a coaching decision in a meaningless regular season finale, Bell had 261 regular season carries, which ranked eighth in the NFL. Add in his 75 catches, and he had 336 touches in 12 games, an average of 28 per game.
He then had 31 and 32 touches in two playoff victories before leaving the season-ending loss at New England with a strained groin.
It was the first soft-tissue injury he’s suffered. And that makes a difference. The other games he’s missed in his career have been ligament injuries. Those are unavoidable.
The Steelers should and will try to work out a long-term deal with Bell. In the meantime, they can use the franchise tag to protect themselves.
Brown, meanwhile, also is respected by his teammates. They see how hard he works. They know he constantly strives to be the best.
There is a perception that he cares more about his numbers than he does winning.
Think about this: When the Steelers were winning nine games in a row, Brown averaged 5.3 catches per game. During the Steelers’ 4-5 start, he averaged 8.4 catches per game.
Did you hear him complaining that he wasn’t being used enough?
Because Brown wants to win.
Much of the speculation surrounding Brown is that, “his act has worn thin,” on the Steelers.
Yes, there were people in the organization disappointed that he filmed the team’s locker room during head coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game speech following a playoff win over Kansas City.
But the story that he sulked following DeAngelo Williams’ touchdown run in New England has already been disproved as a fallacy.
As for being penalized early in the season for excessive celebrations, that ended once Tomlin put his foot down.
Of course, everybody loved them when Brown was backflipping into the end zone or jumping onto the goalpost, but that’s a different story.
Both guys are going to want to be paid akin to their standing in the NFL, which means both should want top dollar. But you know what? Both have earned it.
And the Steelers have more cap space - estimated at more than $40 million - than they’ve had at any time before.
Adrian Peterson’s contract averages $14 million per season. But no other running back’s deal averages more than $8 million per season.
As for the receiver position, five players make an average of $14 million per season, including A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
Is it out of line for Brown to want to be paid equal to his contemporaries? No.
If they can’t afford to keep two of their own - who happen to be two of the best players in the league at their positions - who can they afford to keep?