Steelers: After Suspension, Will Martavis Bryant Return?

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) runs against the Denver Broncos during the first half of the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) runs against the Denver Broncos during the first half of the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers received the news that Martavis Bryant will face a year long suspension, but will the Steelers want him back after?

This offseason was really humming along there for a while. Steelers fans were more than pleased with much of the news coming out of Pittsburgh. The only big loss was Heath Miller, which was promptly dealt with. Other than that, a flurry of good news. But now we learn Martavis Bryant might face a year long suspension. This puts the Steelers in the position of having to decide if he’s still worth it?

Let’s dwell on the good for a moment. The Steelers started this offseason out with not a lot to lose in free agency. Sure, there are some solid players hitting the free agent market but no stars really. The Steelers have spent most of the early part of the season signing back key contributors. Players like Ramon Foster, Robert Golden, William Gay, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are all getting back on the black and gold ride.

The real bummer so far was Heath Miller’s retirement. We all expected Miller to retire soon but I think we were all under the assumption that he’d finish out his contract this year. But Miller has given plenty to Pittsburgh and we’re all glad we got to see him play. Regardless, Jesse James is promising but perhaps not ready for full time starter at the moment.

So the Steelers signed Ladarius Green. Excellent. Green is an adequate blocker but where he really shines is in the pass game. Green is fast enough to beat any linebackers and big enough to beat any safety. He’ll be a dangerous weapon and improve the Steelers red zone play. He and James will also give Haley the ability to play with two tight end sets where both are receiving threats.

Then we all woke up this Saturday to the news, Dejan Kovacevic and Jason Mackey of DK Pittsburgh reported that Martavis Bryant will face a year long suspension for violating the leagues substance abuse policy by testing positive for marijuana. Bryant is currently appealing the suspension but do not expect that to go anywhere. The team has not made an official comment.

This is the second time in two years that Bryant has been suspended for this. Last year it was for the first four games of the year. In light of this, the Steelers have a difficult choice to make. Will they keep Bryant, or will they release him?

I’m sure many are faced with the gut feeling that the answer is obviously yes. Bryant is an athletic freak who is taller and faster than anyone on the field while being able to slide through tacklers, controlling his lanky frame like a shorter, stockier running back would. But his athletic talent is not the only factor.

Another factor is the all the time missed. I’m not saying Bryant is Ricky Williams, but arguing his talent justifies keeping him is making the same mistake many did wasting their time and money on Ricky Williams. Bryant does do great on the field, but what does that mean if he’s not on the field?

Another factor to consider is the sheer distraction of it all. Bryant is going to be around the team, he’s going to be standing around in sweatpants all year. Other players on the team are going to get asked about it by reporters. News about the appeal is going to be coming out as long as that lasts.

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There’s also an element of betrayal to consider. Whatever your political or ethical beliefs about marijuana the fact remains that the NFL does not allow it and Bryant was well aware of that. Maybe they should, but they don’t. They do not. And it’s not a secret. In fact, Bryant might remember this from his four game suspension last year.

Whether Bryant is engaging in some Ghandiesque protest of the leagues policy or whether he was just bored one night, the fact remains he chose to do it, to risk his teams chances at winning games, despite already doing that a year earlier. Whether intentional or not, this is an act of selfishness. He put the team second, he put the Steelers second.

Certainly everyone makes mistakes, but fool me once…

At a certain point sorry is not good enough. And historically, the Steelers have reached breaking points with talented players where they decide the impact on the locker room is more damaging than the benefit they provide on the field. Bryant let his team down, and he did it as a choice, two times, in a row.

The Steelers can forgive. Le’Veon Bell for example was suspended for a similar reason for two games and the Steelers were supportive throughout the whole process. Bell was apologetic and has since been fine.

LeGarette Blount wasn’t as lucky. The Steelers forgave him for the mistake, but when he walked off the field later in the season, the cumulative impact of both those moves and the intent and disrespect of the latter action cause the Steelers to release him.

It’s possible to scoff at the idea that it was Blount and not Bell released due to a moral or ethical reason rather than simply the fact that Bell is the better back. But consider Santonio Holmes. Holmes was a Super Bowl MVP and was traded to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick after a season of over 1200 receiving yards. If you think Tomlin and Colbert are guys who don’t have a line in the sand look no further than Holmes.

Now, Holmes had multiple run ins with law, some for reasons other than substance abuse. And Blount pretty much dared the Steelers to fire him, whether he realized it or not. Bryant’s actions are maybe not as fire-worthy as theirs, but certainly more than Bell’s.

One more factor to consider, and one that might weigh in Bryant’s favor, is his contract. Bryant has made a big splash in the league but his contract is still a fourth round contract. His cap hit this year is only going to be 700k. He also has two years left in that contract, not one. One would obviously make it easier to get rid of him.

In addition, all the suspensions could allow the Steelers to sign him for a cheap long term deal since the suspensions have delayed him reaching his full potential, or at least displaying it for a full year. His troubles would also drive down his appeal to other teams.

This is not to say the Steelers will release Bryant, or even seriously consider it. But where it would be unthinkable, now there is a justification for it. So it’s likely something that has passed through the minds of Steelers brass.

We all want Bryant to be part of the team, but if he isn’t literally part of the team by being absent, and through his actions displays an indifference to that fact, then he’s not literally, figuratively, spiritually, or in any other sense part of the team, and therefore a negative influence on a team that is painfully capable of winning a Super Bowl if the boat doesn’t get rocked.

Next: With Ladarius Green Signing, Steelers Send Warning to NFL

It also makes you wonder if the Steelers knew about this before the rest of us. Because if they did, it puts the Green signing in a different light. Green’s an athlete, and a potential touchdown boon. We all thought Ladarius Green was Heath Miller’s replacement. Maybe he’ll end up being Bryant’s.