Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers received some disheartening news today when word came down that third-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant would be facing a year-long suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The former fourth-round draft pick had previously served a four-game suspension for the same violation last season after unsuccessfully appealing.
Word of that suspension came down in August, but it was knowledge that the Steelers themselves were privy to—or rather, knowledge of the likelihood of a suspension—well in advance. Surely by April at the least, since they talked openly about how Bryant’s evolving situation affected their decision to draft wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round of the draft.
You can be sure that the front office knew that this was likely coming as well, before they signed tight end Ladarius Green, and I would wager that that possibility lay heavily on their minds when they chose to sign him to a four-year, $20 million contract.
It should go without saying that the fact that 11-year veteran tight end Heath Miller retiring played an enormous factor in the Steelers’ decision to acquire a new high-profile tight end in free agency, a route that they rarely take, though that, again, was a possibility that they knew existed well in advance.
But that they chose to target a ‘move’ tight end such as Green, who frequently lines up as a wide receiver, suggests to me that they had in mind to use him as a wide receiver a fair bit, as had been his usage, rather than trying to mold him into their ‘Steelers’ tight end.
Green, at 6’6” and 250 pounds with a speed in the low- to mid-4.5 range, is a target with strong hands that can be the matchup nightmare they needed to get from Bryant, but which they will lack for at least most of this season, should he happen to win an appeal to reduce the length of his suspension—though his failure to do so last season would not be an encouraging sign.
Of course, Green and Bryant are not a one-for-one comparison; they will not only be used in different ways by the Steelers, they will be defended in different ways by their opponents. But the addition of Green was perhaps the quickest and simplest way to reload their weapons on offense that was available to them at the time.
With Green’s ability to function as a big-bodied wide receiver—his limited route tree aside—it gives the offense that sort of target that they would have otherwise lacked, even if Bryant is a bit faster, and Green is a bit bulkier and taller.
Also consider the dubious nature of trying to fill Bryant’s shoes with a rookie, or with a comparable free agent wide receiver. The cost of doing so would have been significant. But a player such as Green seems to be a healthy balance between mitigating the effects of the retirement of Miller and the suspension of Bryant, with both moves potentially having long-term ramifications if the latter continues to be an issue, which would in that event end his career.