Barring another suspension being handed down, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant should be eligible to play in Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers as his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy will then be over. However, even though he’ll be eligible to return in Week 5, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Steelers are guaranteed to activate him back to their 53 man roster right away.
Bryant is currently in Houston working with renowned substance-abuse counselor John Lucas, a former NBA player who overcame addiction and now helps other athletes with their off-field issues. So, what Lucas doesn’t deem Bryant ready to return to football in a few more weeks? Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was asked that very question Wednesday during his weekly spot on 93.7 The Fan.
“I would think that’s always possible that the Steelers could put him [Bryant] on some kind of list to bide him more time,” Bouchette said. “I don’t think it’s automatic that as soon as that suspension is lifted that he’s going to return straight to the lineup. He could, he may very well, but I don’t think it’s automatic.”
So, what kind of list is there should Bryant not quite yet be deemed ready to return after his suspension is up? Well, for starters, the Steelers will likely be granted a one-week roster exemption for Bryant right at the start of Week 5. If they intend on playing him that week against the Chargers, he will probably need to be activated to their 53 man roster by 4 p.m. EST that Wednesday.
If you remember, the Indianapolis Colts chose not activate safety LaRon Landry immediately upon his return from a four-game suspension last season. Instead, they waited another week before activating and playing him.
So, what if the Steelers need more time for Bryant? Well, they could petition Commissioner Roger Goodell to have Bryant placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, which is essentially paid leave. If you remember, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy both spent time on that very list over the course of the last calendar year.
Here’s an explanation of that list and how it’s used, according to the NFL Player Personnel manual.
“The Exempt List is a special player status available to clubs only in unusual circumstances. The List includes those players who have been declared by the Commissioner to be temporarily exempt from counting within the Active List limit. Only the Commissioner has the authority to place a player on the Exempt List; clubs have no such authority, and no exemption, regardless of circumstances, is automatic. The Commissioner also has the authority to determine in advance whether a player’s time on the Exempt List will be finite or will continue until the Commissioner deems the exemption should be lifted and the player returned to the Active List.”
Now, like Bouchette, I’m not saying that this is the route the Steelers will take, but it does have to be considered. Bryant appears to be batting a serious addiction, so if Lucas doesn’t believe the former fourth-round draft pick is ready to return to the team in a few more weeks, you would think the organization would defer to his expertise.
It will be interesting to see if Bryant returns to Pittsburgh one week ahead of his suspension being over in order to quickly acclimate himself with any offensive changes and the Chargers game plan. If he’s not back that week prior to the Chargers game, you’d have to think there’s a good chance he won’t be activated back to the team’s 53 mam roster until Week 6 at the earliest.
The Steelers will likely do what’s best for Bryant as it relates to the long-term. Sure, it would be great to have him back sooner rather than later, but the key thing right now is making sure his drug addiction is behind him once and for all.