PITTSBURGH — Martavis Bryant’s blossoming NFL career took another significant hit Monday when the NFL suspended the talented but troubled wide receiver for at least one year following another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
This is the second league-mandated discipline for Bryant. The 24-year-old sat out the first four games last season following a violation during the off-season.
Bryant caught 50 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns when he returned in Week 6 and was dynamic in the playoffs. He made an acrobatic touchdown grab in a wild-card win over Cincinnati and accounted for more than 200 yards of total offence in a loss to Denver in the divisional round, a game the Steelers played without All-Pro Antonio Brown.
The Steelers pointed to Bryant’s development heading into 2016 as key for the franchise getting back to the Super Bowl. Now they’ll make that journey without the 6-foot-4 speedster who is among the most physically gifted players at his position.
General manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement the team was "disappointed" in Bryant for putting himself at risk, adding Bryant is at a "crossroads" in his professional life.
"He needs to understand significant changes need to occur in his personal life if he wants to regain his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler," Colbert said. "We are hopeful Martavis will take the necessary stops to develop the discipline in his personal life to become a successful player and good teammate."
Bryant has two years remaining on the deal he signed after the Steelers took him with the 118th overall pick of the 2014 draft, a selection that has looked like a steal when Bryant manages to get on the field.
He averaged 21.1 yards per reception as a rookie and the Steelers went 8-2 down the stretch in 2014 after Bryant finally made it off the inactive list and into the lineup. His initial suspension, announced near the end of training camp last summer, seemed to catch his teammates off-guard.
Bryant spent some of his time away from the club down in Houston working with former NBA player and coach John Lucas, who operates a treatment facility. He came back chastened, offering an apology to his teammates and thanking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for his guidance. Roethlisberger, who kept in regular contact with Bryant during the suspension, likened Bryant to "a little brother."
Team chairman Art Rooney II praised Bryant’s progress shortly after the 2015 season ended, but remained cautious about the future.
"Martavis is a player that has tremendous ability and potential," Rooney said in January. "We just have to continue to work with him to make sure he takes care of his business off the field to put himself in a position to be as great a player as he can be. He’s one of those guys where the sky is the limit. I hope the experience he had earlier this season made an impact on him. But it’s one of those things where only time will tell."
The Steelers will get Bryant’s projected salary cap hit of just over $700,000 back. Pittsburgh does have depth at the position. The Steelers re-signed veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey to a three-year deal last week. Markus Wheaton has one season left on his contract, and 2015 third-round pick Sammie Coates showed promise late in the year.