Spring football leagues will always be a case of diminishing returns, at least for the foreseeable future. The NFL is the only dog in the yard. Outfits like the XFL and the USFL are mice. But the thing is, it’s a pretty big yard. And dogs and mice have gotten along before.
With the XFL making its return this past week and the USFL beginning its second season in April, the subject of spring leagues is in the air again. Pittsburgh Steelers defender Cameron Heyward weighed in during the last episode of his podcast, advocating for its legitimacy—and pointing to a former teammate as proof.
“You look at guys like Martavis Bryant and you look at Josh Gordon, and you see that the rules in the NFL have changed, and if those things had changed before, those guys wouldn’t be out of the league”, he said on Not Just Football. “Those guys can play in the NFL. They’ve proven that. Let’s see if they can continue to do it and work their way back up”.
Bryant was a fourth-round wide receiver out of Clemson in 2014, but it didn’t take him long to face significant troubles due to his use of marijuana. The rules against players using the drug were substantially harsher at the time and have been loosened dramatically since. Players are now only tested once just at the start of training camp and are only subject of a fine, not a suspension (barring extreme circumstances). The threshold for triggering a positive test was also raised.
The former rising star for the Steelers made his XFL debut recently for the Vegas Vipers, coached by former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson. He was targeted nine times in the game with four receptions for 28 yards. Luis Perez, formerly of the AAF’s Birmingham Iron, quarterbacked the Vipers to a 22-20 loss to the Arlington Renegades. It’s a far cry from where Bryant began his professional career.
After a rookie season in which he caught eight touchdowns in 10 games, Bryant was hit with a four-game suspension to start out year two (he missed one more game before returning due to an injury). He still produced, catching 50 passes for 765 yards and seven total touchdowns, but his career was about to take a major detour.
Further violations of the league’s substance abuse policy landed him an indefinite suspension lasting at least one season, wiping out the entirety of the 2016 season for him. He struggled to find the same level of dynamic impact after returning to the Steelers in 2017, but he was still a positive contributor.
After that, Pittsburgh traded him to the Raiders for a third-round pick, and he was never quite comfortable there. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in early December, and then was slapped with yet another indefinite suspension. Reports vary as to whether or not he ever formally applied for reinstatement.
Bryant has in the past attempted to resurrect his football career elsewhere, including two aborted attempts with the Toronto Argonauts (never showed up) and the Edmonton Elks (released before training camp. He played in the Fan Controlled Football League last year with the FCF Beasts.