The Pittsburgh Steelers brushed off reports that wide receiver Martavis Bryant requested a trade last week and Bryant himself would go on to refute those reports.
However, NFL Network and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have maintained that the request was made and Bryant made it clear on Sunday that he’s upset with two since-deleted Instagram comments complaining about JuJu Smith-Schuster and their respective roles in the offense. Now, the Steelers have little choice but to explore their trade options.
Bryant missed the entire 2016 season to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and has struggled to regain the trust of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the coaching staff. Through Week 7, Bryant has just 18 catches for 234 yards and a score.
He’s been targeted an average of 5.1 times per game this year. Prior to serving his suspension last season, Bryant was being targeted an average of 8.4 times per game in 2015, so his usage is very clearly down.
Even on the targets he’s receiving, it’s clear that he and Roethlisberger are simply out of sync. Bryant is averaging just 6.5 yards per target in 2017 against the 8.3 yards per target he averaged in 2015.
Add in the potential locker room distraction he’s becoming and now seems like as good an opportunity as any to move on from a player they simply don’t feel they can rely upon anymore.
They can use the reps they free up to reincorporate Eli Rogers into a more prominent role in the offense after he was integral to their success in 2016. It’d also allow for them to experiment with Justin Hunter in Bryant’s big-play role after he impressed enough to earn a job during training camp.
Smith-Schuster could also benefit from an increased workload, as he’s developing a nice rapport with Roethlisberger. He could get some additional work on the outside, as well, allowing the Steelers to test the limits of their talented rookie wideout.
Of course, moving Bryant to a team that has serious interest in using him in a more prominent role is good for him, too. He’s in a contract year and, though his talent is evident, he’s going to have a hard time landing a big payday due to questions about his reliability unless he’s got the production that allows interested parties to look past that.
Going to a team like the Bears where he could be the No. 1 wide receiver and build a rapport with a rookie quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky sets him up with an opportunity to prove his value. And that appears to be what he wants more than anything.
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