PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown is creating separation off the field just like he does on it.
As if sending messages through Photoshopped 49ers jerseys wasn't getting it done, Brown used an #AskAB Twitter thread on Saturday to address his frustrations with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His tweet about his quarterback was jarring.
Asked what caused a rift with Ben Roethlisberger, Brown held nothing back: "No conflict just a matter of respect! Mutual respect! He has a owner mentality like he can call out anybody including coaches. Players know but they can’t say anything about it otherwise they meal ticket gone. It’s a dirty game within a game."
No conflict just a matter of respect! Mutual respect! He has a owner mentality like he can call out anybody including coaches. Players know but they can't say anything about it otherwise they meal ticket gone. It's a dirty game within a game. #truth https://t.co/MsSyBVd3Ny— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 16, 2019
These comments are hard to dismiss. When Brown compared his relationship with Roethlisberger to Wi-Fi back in October -- you know, when the Steelers still made sense -- he didn't say he was cancelling the service.
Brown now says this is about respect. For players of Brown's caliber, this is also about power.
Roethlisberger has it. He's been a Steeler for 15 years, plays in a quarterback-centric league and is known to be close with ownership. No one is denying that. Most players generally know life is different for a franchise QB.
And to be sure, Roethlisberger wasn't routinely showing up late to meetings over the years or skipping team activities altogether in Week 17. One current teammate defended Roethlisberger's handling of Brown, saying he often goes easy on the All-Pro behind the scenes.
But Brown's frustrations that bubbled under the surface finally came to light. Sources have maintained Brown grew tired of playing the scapegoat for the Steelers' problems. Brown basically laid that out when he tweeted Saturday, "I’m the bad guy doe we miss post season think about it."
After the coach tell the team I quit while nursing some bumps then invite me to watch the show with same guys thinking I quit i can not stand with that! I'm the bad guy doe we miss post season think about it https://t.co/imrJ8jnnBc— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 16, 2019
Roethlisberger's public criticisms after the Week 12 loss in Denver -- that Brown should have run a flatter route, that he wished had thrown to JuJu Smith-Schuster at the goal line -- weighed heavily. Privately, Brown was not happy about them.
One source close to Brown summed it up this way: Brown might have his flaws, but he works harder than anyone, yet his career and ability to win are largely predicated on who delivers the ball. So when Roethlisberger publicly criticizes, knowing other players probably couldn't get away with that, it's tough to accept.
Fair or not, that's some fuel behind Brown's tweets.
It became obvious throughout the season Brown was fed up with something. He had an edge about him that overtook his ear-to-ear smiles and touchdown celebrations.
The issues ran deeper than third-down conversions.
Hitting send on the tweet pushed Brown closer to the point of no return.
Even before Saturday's Q&A, Brown never was going to win a power struggle with the 36-year-old Roethlisberger, who's poised to re-sign with the Steelers.
The head coach might as well be aligned with Roethlisberger, too. Mike Tomlin is due another extension soon -- he typically gets one every other summer -- and team president Art Rooney II has said the team would "cross that bridge" at a later date.
Roethlisberger said in the days after the season he valued Brown as a teammate and wanted him back. That seems so long ago now, and reuniting the two would require their most brilliant Hail Mary.