First Call: Antonio Brown buys part of a pro sports team; Eagles CB lauds Steelers WR, jabs JuJu Smith-Schuster

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In Friday’s “First Call,” former Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown is dabbling in pro football ownership. A current Steelers wideout is drawing praise from a Pro Bowl cornerback. A retired Steelers player rep is questioning a NFLPA poll that was critical of the franchise.

Also, a Baltimore Ravens wide receiver is unhappy with some quotes from the organization’s general manager.

Plus, some things fell the right way for the Penguins in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings on Thursday night.

Didn’t see this coming

Antonio Brown is going to try his hand at football ownership.

The former Steelers wide receiver is buying a stake in the Albany Empire of the National Arena League. Brown was part of a press conference to make that announcement on Thursday.

A.B.’s father, Eddie Brown, will also be part of the franchise as vice president of football operations. Eddie Brown is a member of the AFL Hall of Fame. He was a star wide receiver for the Albany Firebirds in AF2 in the 1990s.

“I grew up here, as a little kid watching my dad be successful and watching this building erupt,” Antonio Brown said during the press conference, via

The Empire have won the last two National Arena League championships. They open the 2023 season April 16 against the Orlando Predators.

What am I missing?

One former Steeler is lashing out against an opinion poll of NFL players.

The NFL Players Association asked its union members to grade each team on how they were being treated as players. The grades for the Steelers were bad in some areas, particularly when it came to facilities and treatment of families.

Ramon Foster, a former Steelers player rep, acted with surprise at that result.

On the positive end, the franchise’s training staff and strength coaches got high marks. Another former Steeler, Vince Williams, noticed the poll and wanted to echo the results for strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont.

TribLIVE’s Chris Adamski posted an in-depth look at the results Wednesday. The Steelers declined comment for the story.

Surprising praise, expected burn

Posting on “The Volume,” Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay Jr. had high praise for one Steelers receiver, while ripping another pass catcher that used to wear Black and Gold.

The Philadelphia Eagles defensive back gave his top 5 list of wide receivers that he faced. He listed Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson at No. 4. That’s surprising given that Johnson didn’t have a touchdown all season long. Also, his receptions dropped from 107 to 86, his yards fell off by 279, he registered 14 fewer first downs, and his longest reception was just 37 yards.

Not only that, but Johnson wasn’t particularly good during a 35-13 loss to the Eagles when the Steelers visited Philadelphia this year. He managed just 35 yards on five catches.

But Slay said of Johnson, “That boy is a dog. He’s a real quiet assassin. He reminds me a lot (of) A.B. A great vertical guy.”

That’s a bit much. But I’m sure Johnson will take the compliment. By the way, no surprise here, Slay said the best receiver he faced in 2023 was Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson.

Slay also popped off about Kansas City Chief receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Like many of his Eagles teammates, Slay is mad that the former Steeler took to social media to mock James Bradberry for his defensive holding call that ended up deciding the Super Bowl.

“That ain’t called for,” Slay said. “Y’all taking it to a whole new level right now. Y’all new generation a little weird. What JuJu needs to be doing is just worrying about his little TikTok dances.”

I’m not sure if Slay being 32 and Smith-Schuster being 26 qualifies the two of them as being from different generations, per se. But I agree with everything else Slay said.

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Birds pecking at each other

On Wednesday at the NFL Combine, Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta was asked why the team has struggled to draft good wide receivers.

“If I had an answer, that would probably mean I would have some better receivers,” DeCosta said.“We’re gonna keep swinging. There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks. We’ve never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing, but it’s not for a lack of effort.”

That didn’t go over well with receiver Rashod Bateman. He was selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft by Baltimore.

Bateman was referring to No. 8, quarterback Lamar Jackson. The former NFL MVP is currently without a contract and may soon get the franchise tag. As for Bateman, he has totaled just 800 yards over 19 games during his first two NFL seasons. As he alluded to in his tweet, Bateman has dealt with foot and groin injuries since coming into the league.

Hockey roundup

Beyond their 5-4 overtime win in Tampa, it was a good night for the Penguins.

That win gave the Penguins 71 points on the season, good for the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They leapfrogged the New York Islanders (70 points), who now hold second place.

The team directly in front of the Pens and Isles in the Metropolitan Division is the New York Rangers. Like the Lightning in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers are in third place with 79 points. However, they lost to the Ottawa Senators at home 5-3 on Thursday night.

Former Ranger and ex-Penguin, Derick Brassard, scored twice for Ottawa in his 1,000th NHL game.

Those were Brassard’s 10th and 11th goals of the year. Ottawa’s Jakob Chychrun and New York’s Patrick Kane failed to score in their debuts with their new teams.

Ottawa now has 66 points. They are part of a four-team log jam with Buffalo, Washington and Florida for ninth in the East. Those clubs are all chasing the Pens and Isles for the wild-card spots, and a pair of them had a rough night Thursday.

Buffalo was Boston’s latest victim. The Bruins smoked the Sabres 7-1 on Thursday. That means Boston now has a nine-game winning streak and 101 points on the season.

The Panthers also lost Thursday, 2-1 to Nashville. Predators goalie Kevin Lankinen made 30 saves.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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