PITTSBURGH -- For all his breathtaking playmaking and marketability and record-breaking performances, Antonio Brown was never going to win a power struggle in Pittsburgh.
Not with a franchise quarterback in a quarterback-centric league.
That's why news of the Pittsburgh Steelers planning to restructure and extend Ben Roethlisberger's contract, via a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, is a bigger move than any trade or a Le'Veon Bell transition tag that could be applied in the next three months.
Big Ben's presence gives stability to a team that values it. He threw for a league-leading 5,129 yards at age 36. It's a pretty easy call to take the final year remaining on his deal and add two years to it, falling in line with a quarterback market paying at least $25-30 million annually for top-shelf guys.
There's still much to sort out with Brown, which affects Roethlisberger, the offense and the entire organization.
As Brown left the team before Week 17 and raised questions about his future in Pittsburgh, multiple reports hint at growing tension between Brown and Roethlisberger.
NFL Network analyst James Jones, a former Green Bay Packers receiver, said he heard from players that Roethlisberger chided Brown in meetings, saying he didn't have to throw him the ball, and called for Brown to get off the field after running the wrong route.
The two have had their love-hate moments, to be sure. Clearly something went down last week, many details of which you can read here.
But one veteran player who witnessed the whole incident last week said Roethlisberger didn't say any of those lines.
And one reality was pointed out to me by several current and ex-Steelers: You don't record six straight 100-catch seasons together without trust. That's why Roethlisberger came out strongly on his radio show in support of Brown.
Roethlisberger isn't going anywhere, and if Brown is with him in 2019, he has to work within the parameters of a Big Ben-led offense. That's probably not changing.
March will offer clarity. Brown's roster bonus of $2.5 million is due March 18. Expect Roethlisberger's contract to be done by then, giving the Steelers the chance to lessen the quarterback's $23.2 million salary cap hit next year. Team president Art Rooney II said last offseason that both sides wanted to execute one more contract before Roethlisberger retires. A three-year deal would take Roethlisberger to age 38, a reasonable timeframe to expect high production.
Roethlisberger slimmed down last season and has said he felt more nimble, which helped him throw a league-high 675 passing attempts and 452 completions.
Roethlisberger as the centerpiece allows the offense to move forward with or without Brown, who obviously makes the quarterback better. Brown, too, has more high-level years left.
But if Brown has forced the Steelers' hand, Roethlisberger can work with a playmaking lineup led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, James Conner, James Washington and more. He'll need at least one draft pick to get vertical.
Roethlisberger is an imperfect quarterback. Leading the league in interceptions with 16 is less than ideal. But he's still elite, still gives the Steelers a chance in every game. He's in a good place with coach Mike Tomlin, citing a "friendship" between the two in a late-December quote.
If everyone's happy over the next two months, don't be surprised if Roethlisberger and Brown are slinging it downfield for a 10th season.