Are the Pittsburgh Steelers the Most Dysfunctional Team in the NFL?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in the NFL, but they are starting to become a bit more dysfunctional these days. In the last year, they have lost their top running back and wide receiver, and another former Steeler is talking about the team in a negative light. Let’s discuss some of the topics that put the Steelers in the running for the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.

Le’Veon Bell contract dispute and departure

Much of the Steelers’ 2018 season was dominated by talk of RB Le’Veon Bell’s contract dispute. That led to Bell sitting out the entire season — giving up his $14 million salary — and eventually leaving in free agency this offseason. He signed with the Jets who, while improving, are a worse team than the Steelers and in a division that has been dominated by the Patriots for almost two decades.

Antonio Brown trade to the Raiders

Toward the end of the season, the spotlight turned to WR Antonio Brown. He sat out the final Steelers game of 2018 against the Bengals amid rumors that he was becoming unhappy with the team. After the season ended, rumblings about his displeasure with the Steelers grew, and reports surfaced that he was requesting a trade.

After a reported deal with the Bills fell apart because Brown didn’t want to play there, the Steelers finally traded the receiver to the Raiders. So like Bell, Brown went to a worse team in a division in which they aren’t likely to compete for the division title just to get away from the Steelers. And Pittsburgh’s return for Brown wasn’t what they were hoping for. The Raiders gave the Steelers their third- and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.

Emmanuel Sanders comments on the Steelers

Emmanuel Sanders didn't like the way the Pittsburgh Steelers treated him.
Emmanuel Sanders received a lowball contract offer from the Steelers before leaving for Denver. | Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders began his career in Pittsburgh, playing with the Steelers from 2010-13 until he signed a contract with the Broncos. Sanders recently did an interview with Denver radio station 104.3 The Fan in which he discussed the end of his tenure with the Steelers.

Sanders said that the Steelers offered him “a crappy deal” with just $1 million guaranteed over three years. When he informed general manager Kevin Colbert that he was declining the deal, Sanders says Colbert asked him, “Who do you think you are, Antonio Brown?” The implication is that Colbert wasn’t giving big-money deals to players who he felt were inferior to Brown so that he could save enough money and cap space to sign Brown to a new deal when the time came.

Mike Tomlin on lack of coaching diversity

Then there’s head coach Mike Tomlin. He was criticized for some questionable calls last season that may have kept the Steelers out of the playoffs, and he’s potentially on the hot seat entering the 2019 season. Recently, he commented on the lack of diversity among the league’s head coaches. Tomlin is one of just three black head coaches in the NFL, and of the last 15 head coaches hired by teams just two were black — including Steve Wilks, who was fired after one season. Tomlin called the last couple of years a “disappointing hiring cycle” and vowed to “continue to fight” for equality among coaches and in other roles in the NFL.

Where does this leave the Steelers?

The departures of Bell and Brown leave the Steelers in what looks to be a three-way race to win the AFC North with the Ravens and Browns. The 9-6-1 Steelers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2013, which was also the last time they failed to win 10 games. QB Ben Roethlisberger will have a tough time without Brown there to make big plays in the passing game, and he’ll have to rely on WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to be his No. 1 pass-catcher. We’ll see if the Steelers have enough talent left on the field to win the division or even return to the playoffs after what is currently a one-year absence.