Brown showed up late to meetings, left the team waiting on the tarmac on the way to road games, ran wrong routes -- all issues that the Steelers calmly managed on the way to six historic 100-catch seasons.
The Oakland Raiders showed what happens when you draw a hard line with Brown, who was given a wide berth and friendly routine in Pittsburgh. That routine was disrupted, and Brown reacted with emotion. Oakland released Brown on Saturday after his bizarre offseason culminated in blowups with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden.
Brown's puzzling final few days with the Raiders -- who are left to salvage their season before it even starts -- illustrate how Mike Tomlin, once an easy target for the "players' coach" critics, coached Brown the only way possible.
Watch him work hard in practice. Get him to the field. Get him to the finish line. Or disruption awaits.
Tomlin wasn't being a players' coach as much as he was adapting to his surroundings. Brown is clearly his own man, and coaching such independence requires nuance.
Now, he's been awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize by the Twittersphere.
Brown's release from Oakland, effectively voiding $30 million in guarantees, accentuates the Steelers' victory.
They got historic production. They knew when to abort when the relationship became untenable. Which is why they aren't surprised now that Brown has melted down. Many saw fireworks coming -- maybe not this soon, considering the money afforded to Brown had he been a moderately compliant employee.
But they expected it. Brown had moments when he was a great teammate in Pittsburgh. Many players still swear by his caring nature. The unpredictable behavior just became overbearing.
The Steelers' trade haul from the Brown deal, acquiring third- and fifth-round picks in exchange for Brown signing an extension in Oakland, seemed unimpressive at the time. It was easy to question how a transcendent talent net measly mid-round compensation?
But the pall cast over Brown loomed larger than anyone knew, with teams hesitant to take on Brown's emotional outbursts that became too common in Pittsburgh.
Talent prevails in the NFL, to a point.
The Steelers used those picks to get receivers Diontae Johnson, who has obvious talent but is still an unknown, and tight end Zach Gentry, who's big but raw. Both are on the 53-man roster. General manager Kevin Colbert also made clear in April that the Steelers wouldn't have traded up 10 spots in the first round, giving up their 52nd overall pick, to select linebacker Devin Bush without the security of a high-third-rounder from Oakland.
Bush absolutely looks the part of an every-down starter and difference-maker for a defense that needs more turnovers. The Steelers can thank Brown for that.
This makes the full trade breakdown as this unofficially: Steelers get Bush, Johnson and Gentry in exchange for Antonio Brown, a late-second-round pick (which Denver got in the Bush deal) and dropping 10 spots in the first-round of the 2019 draft, which is a moot point since the Steelers got the guy they wanted in that round.
The Steelers will take that all day considering Oakland got nothing from Brown and there are no guarantees he revives his once-proud career.
No one is saying the Steelers are a more talented offense without Brown. Tomlin used to tell his players that the Steelers will tolerate Brown's antics because of his hard work and production.
At least now, though, all the Steelers have to tolerate is a quiet, team-first environment in their locker room.