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Martavis Bryant, once unhappy with role, wants to return to Steelers

Joe Rutter
| Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, 4:21 p.m.
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant makes a catch next to the Browns' Jabrill Peppers during the second quarter Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant makes a catch next to the Browns' Jabrill Peppers during the second quarter Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Heinz Field.

His representatives requested a trade, and he spouted off about a teammate on social media, prompting a one-game benching.

At midseason, wide receiver Martavis Bryant's future seemed destined to be anywhere but Pittsburgh.

With the 2017 Steelers season in the books after the surprising 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a divisional playoff game Sunday, Bryant has had a change of heart.

Bryant said Monday that he wants to remain with the Steelers, who retain his rights for one more season.

“Yes, of course,” Bryant said as players cleaned out their lockers in preparation for the offseason. “They stuck with me through my whole process, and I had a great year this year. I didn't play the best, but it got better each game, and I look to build on it for next year.”

What changed since midseason when Bryant was benched by coach Mike Tomlin for his social media comments?

“Just bring another trophy here, I just want to win,” Bryant said. “I love the guys here, love the coaches. I don't feel like starting that chemistry over again when you go to another team.”

Bryant's return from a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy was anything but smooth. He lost playing time to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster early in the season and received limited targets against Kansas City and Cincinnati, prompting the trade request and social media comments.

After the Steelers handed Kanas City its first loss in Week 6, a game in which Bryant had two catches for 27 yards, his representatives floated a report that he was requesting a trade. When Bryant had just one catch for three yards the following week in a win against Cincinnati, he went on Instagram to downplay Smith-Schuster's success. This led to a one-game benching against the Detroit Lions.

Bryant played better in the second half, catching 32 passes for 369 yards and a touchdown. Contrast that to the first seven games when he had 18 receptions for 234 yards and one score.

“Each day I came to work, and I had a couple distractions, but I didn't let it distract me,” Bryant said. “I kept working. Things started to get better toward the end.”

Bryant finished with 50 catches – the same number he had in 2015 prior to his suspension – but his receiving yards dropped from 765 to 603. His touchdowns dropped from six to three.

In the playoff loss to Jacksonville, Bryant was targeted on just four of Ben Roethlisberger's 58 attempts. He had two catches for 78 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter that brought the Steelers within 28-14.

Bryant was asked if he could take on a bigger role in the Steelers offense next season.

“I don't have control over that,” he said. “All I can do is get better this offseason, come back at OTAs and show them that I deserve it more and just go from there. It's a long offseason, got a lot of work to do. The work will be done, and I'll be better next season.”

Bryant has one season remaining on his rookie contract but is unlikely to receive an extension in the offseason.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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