I know that I have written this in the past, but now is really Martavis Bryant’s last best hope to thrust himself back into the national spotlight that he has sought to recapture since his reinstatement into the NFL for the 2017 season.
Previously concerning himself with being replaced by Sammie Coates, and then JuJu Smith-Schuster, the third-year wide receiver is going to be the primary player to fill the void left by the injury to Antonio Brown, which figures to shut him down for the remainder of the season.
That is not to say that he will take over Brown’s status, nor role. Smith-Schuster will in all likelihood become the top target, given that he is the team’s other starting wide receiver. But Bryant will obviously see increased playing time and targets in the absence of the wide receiver who sees the most playing time and targets.
And he has been building up to a bigger role, as well. He has made strides over the course of the past four games, totaling 18 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He also hauled in his first deep target—to be more specific, a throw with 20 or more air yards in this case—since week two. He has only six receptions of 20 yards or more on the season.
In the week leading up to the game, Bryant seemed to allude to earlier remarks about wanting to seek a trade if his role were not expanded and his productivity did not improve, saying that he is devoted to nothing but football for the remainder of the season, but that he would handle his business after that.
Under most any scenario, 2019 will be a contract year for him, the final year of his rookie contract. That contract could reach its conclusion in Pittsburgh, or it could be subsumed by another team if he ends up being traded. It’s unlikely a trading team would sign him to an extension that he is willing to sign.
Whatever the future holds for him, however, the next two games at least are a great opportunity for him to showcase his talents for whoever is watching, a group that obviously includes the Steelers as they weigh how he might fit into their plans between Brown and the rookie.
Understated in his recent work is the fact that Bryant has been making a number of key catches in intermediate range, and often in pressure situations, on third down or late in games. While there is still ample room for critique, he has been a fairly consistently positive contributor of late.
And the Steelers need him to continue to be that and more in Brown’s absence. He was that on Sunday, hauling in a fantastic one-handed touchdown and a deep 39-yard reception on a ball that frankly I thought was overthrown. He has the skill. He has the drive. Now he has the opportunity. Let’s see what happens.