Martavis Bryant, who has fewer receiving yards in his career than Antonio Brown is on pace for this season, thinks he should have the ball more often. That’s not going to happen in Pittsburgh. Bryant won’t play in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions after being demoted during practice on Wednesday, the receiver told reporters.
Bryant’s unhappiness with his situation escalated after he recorded just one catch on two targets for 3 yards against the Bengals last Sunday and seemingly fell behind rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Pittsburgh pecking order. Bryant was frustrated enough to start replying to randos on Instagram about his role.
Bryant later deleted that post and clarified those remarks.
Monday — according to teammate Ramon Foster — Bryant “called in sick” and didn’t show up to work, and ESPN reported he wants to be traded. Bryant confirmed that desire on Tuesday to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
“I just want to be happy, whether it’s here or it’s somewhere else,” Bryant said. “I just want to help contribute. I just want to be the best player that I can on and off the field ... and I want to be given the chance to be that. But I would like for it to be here. If not, then, oh well. Just got to move on.”
Mike Tomlin said he was too busy game-planning for the Lions to meet with Bryant, and did his best to stomp on the rumors, saying Bryant is “not available via trade” and not “high on my damn agenda.” Tomlin added that he will meet with Bryant and “rain down my judgment.”
Tomlin’s stance won’t stop teams from inquiring about Bryant’s price, and it shouldn’t stop the Steelers from listening. At 5-2 and in the driver’s seat in the AFC North, the Steelers should be thinking short term while their Super Bowl window is still open, especially with an uncertain future for Ben Roethlisberger. Bryant is undeniably a special talent, even if his production hasn’t always matched his on-field gifts. He has a rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 211 pounds), big-play ability, and a team-friendly contract with a $725,000 cap hit this season and a $705,000 cap hit in 2018 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
The issue is that Bryant has become a dreaded “distraction.” That’s often a label lobbed unfairly at players, but it’s apt for someone who is complaining that he isn’t immediately a major factor in his offense after serving a year-long suspension because he skipped his drug tests.
If Bryant wants off a Super Bowl contender, the Steelers should be willing to oblige. Here are four places Bryant could land.
Bryant’s Instagram pettiness would fit right into Seattle’s cacophony, where receivers shove coaches and star players scream at one another. Seattle has no receiver depth behind their top three of Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson, and Tyler Lockett, who are the only wide receivers on the roster with double-digit targets. Baldwin has already suffered a groin injury this season, and Richardson suffered a compound fracture in his right ring finger earlier in the year. Bryant won’t have any trouble learning Seattle’s playbook, which is 10 percent quick slants and 90 percent “wait for Russell Wilson to run out of the pocket and make a miraculous play.” Bryant’s elusiveness would be perfect when Wilson has to make a lot of something out of nothing on those broken plays. He may not find the volume he desires with the Seahawks, but at least in Seattle, his complaints won’t be heard over the sounds of everyone else screaming at each other.
If Bryant wants to be “the man” in his offense, there’s no better place than Chicago. De facto no. 1 receiver Cameron Meredith was placed on IR before the season, and 2015 first-round pick Kevin White landed on IR after Week 1. White, who was considered a developmental prospect, hasn’t had a whole lot of time to develop due to his litany of injuries. He has played in just five games over the last two and a half seasons, and just mentioning his name will make a Bears fan grimace. Chicago, which won last week with a Great Depression–era gameplan as Mitchell Trubisky completed 4 of 7 passes, could use a decent receiver if it plans on actually developing their young quarterback. Bryant would unquestionably be the top dog in the offense, and Trubisky can take shots down the field. If he could establish a rapport with Trubisky by the end of 2018, Chicago might be ready to hand him a nice contract extension rather than let him hit the open market.
Dallas has a clear no. 1 receiver in Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten is immortal, and receiver Cole Beasley has turned into a reliable option out of the slot, but Terrance Williams has never felt like a threatening option on the outside. Brice Butler is Dallas’s only other true deep threat besides Dez this year, with eight catches on 11 targets for 207 yards — over 25 yards per catch — but he’s not someone coaches gameplan against. Lining up Martavis opposite Dez would force defenses to recalculate their coverages. If Martavis requires safety help over the top, it would give Dez more favorable looks while also complicating how to defend Dallas’s rushing attack. It would also certainly be the best combination of guys named Bryant in NFL history. The Cowboys are 3-3, and if they want to grab a wild card, they may need Jerry Jones to pull a Wild Card.
San Francisco 49ers
The winless 49ers might be the worst team in football, but could be the perfect landing spot for Bryant. San Francisco is poised to find a franchise quarterback in the offseason either through the draft or by signing Kirk Cousins in free agency. The team signed wide receiver Pierre Garçon this offseason, whose high-volume, possession-style of play would be the perfect complement to Bryant’s vertical skill set. With two second-rounders, two third-rounders, and two seventh-rounders in this year’s draft, San Francisco has plenty of capital to swing a deal without hampering its rebuilding effort and plenty of cap space to keep Bryant in the Bay Area long term. With a scheme devised by former Falcons offensive coordinator and football savant Kyle Shanahan and executed by a true franchise quarterback, San Francisco might be the place Bryant can reach his highest highs.