PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have no plans to trade Martavis Bryant. They also apparently don’t have any plans to play him either. At least not in Detroit.
Bryant indicated he’ll be inactive when the first-place Steelers visit the Lions on Sunday night, the fallout from a social media outburst in which the wide receiver made it clear he’s unhappy with his role in the offense.
“I’m fine,” Bryant said Wednesday. “I ain’t tripping.”
Passionately defiant at times, Bryant insisted he meant no ill will when he suggested he was better than rookie teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster during an Instagram comment shortly after Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati last weekend. Bryant deleted his initial response and replaced it with one in which he wrote he wanted to be on a team where he could “gets mine.”
Given a few days to cool off, Bryant instead doubled down, even though coach Mike Tomlin called Bryant’s comments “out of bounds.”
“I feel like I’m better than every receiver or any receiver I played with,” Bryant said. “For (JuJu), he feels the same way. (Antonio Brown) feels the same way. Justin Hunter feels the same way. Everybody feel the same way.”
Bryant, tied for third on the team with 18 receptions through seven games in his return from a year-plus suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, stressed he believes he’s a “great teammate.” Several Steelers surrounded Bryant’s locker when he began to address a gaggle of media for the second time in as many weeks, though they quickly broke up.
Maybe because the spectacle is becoming a bit too commonplace.
A day after a dominant road victory in Kansas City on Oct. 15, he downplayed reports he wanted to be traded, reports that surfaced as the team was flying back to Pittsburgh that he wanted out. This time around, he didn’t dismiss the idea of being sent elsewhere before next Tuesday’s deadline. If anything, he welcomed it, even though Tomlin stressed Bryant isn’t on the market.
“If I’m not traded, I’m going to work my butt off here and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “You’re not going to hear me complain or nothing no more, I’m just going to be quiet and let everything fall in place.”
Bryant declined to get into specifics about why he’s so frustrated, saying repeatedly he simply needs to learn from it and move on.
“I don’t have no beef with nobody in here,” he said. “I love everybody in here. I work hard with everybody in here.”
Praising his work ethic: People throughout the organization have praised Bryant’s work ethic since he began the path back toward full reinstatement in May, a process few players with multiple drug suspensions have gotten through successfully. Bryant’s disciplined approach to getting his life and his career back on track is why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admits Bryant’s decision to air his concerns publicly came across as a shock.
“I don’t hear him on the field crying and complaining and wanting the ball, throwing his hands up, not running hard, doing things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “You see him block after other guys catch the ball and during runs. I grab him on the sideline and talk to him about the pictures like I do with a lot of guys, and he’s very engaging.”
Bryant and Roethlisberger have a somewhat spotty history. The quarterback reached out to Bryant daily during Bryant’s four-game suspension at the start of the 2015 season. But Roethlisberger kept his distance when Bryant was suspended again in March, 2016. Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show he texted Bryant extensively on Monday as the issue mushroomed, but Bryant said Wednesday the two still haven’t spoken face to face.
Bryant credited the Steelers for standing by him during his 15 months away from the club. But he has often painted a picture of solitude during his league-mandated sabbatical. He spent most of the time in Nevada trying to stay in shape, often leaving the house during game days so he wouldn’t have to watch the Steelers without him. It wasn’t easy. It also gave him confidence in his self-reliance.
“I just feel like people don’t understand the amount of work it takes to get back once you get kicked out,” Bryant said. “People think everybody just gave me a way back when it didn’t happen like that. I had to do everything the league asked me to do to get back. Didn’t nobody give me anything.”
Bryant apologized for being a distraction for a team that appears on its way to a fourth straight playoff berth as the season reaches its midway point. He’s not concerned about backlash, inside the locker room or elsewhere.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the outcome of what I have to do in life. As you can see, I worked my way back and didn’t nobody think I was going to come back, the fans or nobody.”
Bryant does plan to take a break from social media, pointing out “you see what happens when I get on it.” If he’s still around following Pittsburgh’s bye week, Bryant will press forward. He remains under contract through 2018, and it seems highly unlikely the Steelers could get fair value on the market for a player with dynamic talent — albeit one who is a positive drug test away from possibly ending his NFL career.
“Just try to come back and finish up strong,” Bryant said. “That’s all I can focus on right now. What’s been done is done.”