A person’s last memory of Martavis Bryant in the NFL depends on perspective. For some, that last image might be the 36-yard touchdown pass that he caught for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 45-42 Divisional Round loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Others might think of when he commented on Instagram “Juju [Smith-Schuster] is nowhere near better than me fool.” Bryant has a chance to create some new memories with the Dallas Cowboys.
They signed Bryant on Tuesday to the practice squad. He has been out of the league since December 2018 when he received a third suspension from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bryant had already been suspended for the entire season in 2016. He has applied for reinstatement multiple times over the last five years, and Commissioner Roger Goodell finally reinstated him on Saturday.
The only football that Bryant has played since his suspension has been for the XFL’s Vegas Vipers earlier this year. In eight games he caught 14 passes for 154 yards. Apparently, that was enough for the Cowboys to kick the tires on the 31-year-old, 6-foot-4 speedster. At his best, he was a great No. 2 receiver with Antonio Brown as the No. 1 for the Steelers, back when Mike Tomlin was holding on like Tobey Maguire in Spiderman 2 trying to keep that dysfunctional locker room from falling off the tracks.
There is certainly not a great deal of wear and tear on Bryant. He played three seasons for the Steelers, half of one for the Oakland Raiders, and never suited up in a game during his stints in the CFL.
If Bryant is close to as fast as he was with the Steelers, he could provide a lift for the Cowboys’ offense. Speed is always a valuable commodity in the NFL, especially with a player his size. It could open up the field for the king of YAC, CeeDee Lamb.
That is of course a best-case scenario. A player of his age whose only professional football game reps since 2018 are eight XFL games in the spring of 2023 is not going to vault the Cowboys to the top of the playoff picture. However, suiting up in a single game this season would be a massive accomplishment.
While Bryant’s play on the field will likely look different, what has hopefully changed is his behavior. What he used that got him suspended — definitely marijuana in 2016 — is irrelevant. He proved himself to be not dependable and a pouter. The Smith-Schuster post proved that in 2017 he was not ready to assume full responsibility for his actions. He was upset about a lack of targets, and eventually was demoted to the scout team that season before being put back in the lineup.
Leaving the NFL the way that he did is far from the ideal ending to a career. If he can play nice with the Cowboys and find his way back onto the field this season, or next season with a different team, his career can still have a happy ending.
Many people in their 20s have made mistakes that came with a heavy cost. Bryant paid a massive price — the prime of his NFL career. Currently, he is a young man even in football years. He still has a chance to be remembered more for moments like that playoff touchdown catch instead of his poor choices.