'Sick' Martavis Bryant a no-show at Steelers facility
After being absent from the stat sheet for much of the Steelers' 29-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, wide receiver Martavis Bryant was absent from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday, missing film review and team meetings.
“He was sick. He went to the doctor,” agent Thomas Santanello told the Tribune-Review.
The timing of Bryant's illness was curious, considering it came about 12 hours after he criticized rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in a social media message and a week after he reportedly asked for a trade.
Bryant's frustration with his reduced role in the offense — he had one catch for three yards against the Bengals — boiled over when he responded to an Instagram comment that suggested Smith-Schuster, the precocious 20-year-old rookie, is a better receiver.
That seemed to strike a nerve for Bryant, who rejoined the Steelers this season after serving a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Wrote Bryant: “JuJu is no where near better than me, fool. All they need to do is give me what I want and y'all can have JuJu and whoever else.”
The post later was deleted and replaced by one that was complimentary of Smith-Schuster, the youngest player in the NFL.
“JuJu is the future and got great talent and is going to be one of the best to play this game. I want him to get his. I just want mines, period, point-blank. Ain't nobody did nothing to get me back. I worked my ass off to get myself back with no help and little support, period. In due time the process will show.”
At stake is Bryant's future earning potential. The Steelers hold his rights through the 2018 season. Any chance at an extension before Bryant hits free agency would come after this season.
Teammates weren't happy that Bryant went public on social media with his unhappiness.
“I wish it didn't happen at all,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said. “To each his own. I'm not going to judge him for how he feels. He's got to be smarter when it comes down to it.”
Smith-Schuster said he talked to Bryant about the Instagram posts.
“What he said, I don't take it personally,” Smith-Schuster said. “Me and him are still great friends. We still talk, and I want the best of him.”
Smith-Schuster has 17 receptions for 231 yards, the precise numbers Bryant compiled until his lone reception against the Bengals. Smith-Schuster, however, has three touchdown catches to Bryant's one.
Bryant's production has dropped off the since the second game of the season when he had three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. He hasn't topped 48 receiving yards in any of the past five games.
“I understand where he's coming from if I was in his shoes,” Smith-Schuster said. “There is only one ball, and there are so many athletes on the field. It's tough. At the end of the day, we have to do what's best for our team.
“Just moving forward, hopefully, we do get him the ball more. We do feed him. He's a great player and a great athlete. I would like him to be on our team. Moving forward, I think he's going to be great for us.”
Bryant's absence Monday was the fourth known time that he was out sick this season. He missed two days of practice because of illness before Week 4, and he was added to the injury report the day before the game against Jacksonville with an undisclosed illness.
Santanello did not know the nature of Bryant's illness Monday.
Reports of Bryant's unhappiness surfaced hours after the Steelers' 19-13 victory at Kansas City when he played 10 fewer snaps than Smith-Schuster against the Chiefs.
Bryant played more snaps than Smith-Schuster (36 to 31) against the Bengals. Aside from his 3-yard catch and 2-yard run on a reverse, Bryant was targeted one other time. On a deep pass, he lost track of the ball in flight, and it landed incomplete.
Bryant showed some frustration after he was not targeted on an incompletion to Antonio Brown on third-and-1 at the Steelers 13 early in the fourth quarter. Bryant was seen shaking his head as he walked back to the sideline.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier didn't understand the fuss about Bryant's frustration.
“Receivers want more balls. I want more tackles,” he said. “It is what it is. We all want more of something.”
The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. on Oct. 31. The last time the Steelers made an in-season trade was in 2013, when they acquired tackle Levi Brown for a conditional draft choice. It was the only in-season trade during the Mike Tomlin coaching era.
The last time the Steelers jettisoned a high-profile player midseason was in 2014, when they cut running back LeGarrette Blount less than 24 hours after he walked off the field before their game against Tennessee ended. He signed with the New England Patriots later that week and won a Super Bowl ring that season.