At his locker in December, Martavis Bryant rose from his seat, his lanky frame unfolding like an accordion, and spoke softly but excitedly about his daughters getting snow at Christmas for the first time. He sounded like a guy who wanted to make a home in Pittsburgh. You wanted to believe it.
That’s when Bryant was a few months removed from his four-game suspension for multiple failed drug tests, and he seemed to be doing great. But whenever you talk to Bryant, you wonder about the trouble lurking. Can he get his life straightened out?
The Pittsburgh Steelers truly don’t know about that now. No one knows what to expect from Bryant after news of his yearlong suspension from the NFL for drug-related reasons. Bryant is appealing the suspension.
The Steelers knew the risks with Bryant when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. He was a first-round talent branded with the NFL’s scarlet letter for draft picks: "character concern."
But watching his Lamborghini-like speed and grace on the field makes the inevitable car crash that much harder to watch.
There’s hardly a guarantee Bryant will ever play another down for the Steelers, though from what I’ve gathered, don’t expect the team to cut him. He’s still a valuable commodity if he can clean up his act. They can place him on the reserve/suspended list and hope for the best.
If he is done in Pittsburgh, 17 touchdowns in 23 games isn’t a bad risk-reward for a fourth-rounder. But that’s not the point. Bryant can have so much more. He's got top-10 receiver ability, no question.
Luckily for the Steelers, Bryant's absence won’t break the offense. Not when you have Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. In free agency, the Steelers quickly signed Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Ladarius Green.
This core group of playmakers is still quite strong without him -- Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, DeAngelo Williams, Green, Sammie Coates, Heyward-Bey and Jesse James. Bell is an elite pass-catcher who can line up in the slot, and Green is more of a vertical tight end, so although the Steelers will miss Bryant’s raw playmaking, Roethlisberger has more than enough to work with.
Bryant should have been a part of it, though. He’s the classic well-intentioned young player who either doesn’t recognize the damage caused by poor decisions or simply can’t control them.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect Monday's news that the suspension is official.