When the Pittsburgh Steelers face off against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon in a crucial AFC North matchup, Martavis Bryant will be at the center of attention again for all the wrong reasons. The receiver made headlines in the hours after the Steelers’ pivotal momentum-building victory over the Kansas City Chiefs for a trade request he had made to the team. Bryant is apparently unhappy with his role in the team’s offense six weeks into his return to the NFL after his season-long suspension. Bryant is splitting snaps with rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, with the rookie seeing an increasing role in the offense with each passing week. Bryant, if reports are to be believed, thinks he should have a larger role in the offense and is being misused.
While attempts have been made to defuse the tension from this news in the early part of the week, when Sunday rolls around all eyes will be on Bryant. Bryant’s apparent unhappiness provides a distraction for a team that can ill-afford them. The timing of Bryant’s trade request is odd, coming hours after the team’s biggest win of the season, and suggests deeper rooted problems between himself in the organization. The media made a meal out of his comments about Ben Roethlisberger and his suspension in an interview Dan Graziano over the summer. However, these comments were taken out of context and very overblown by the media. The trade request, however, is grounded much more in tangible evidence and it is hard to take out of context when Bryant’s girlfriend, Deja Hiott, is posting on social media confirming the story of unhappiness. Irrespective of the desire to be traded, the news and timing of the event present more cautionary flags for the Steelers organization. The evidence does not look good for Bryant: he was suspended once for recreational drug use, then told the organization he was clean only to get caught a second time and suspended for the entire season and now is demanding a trade for being unfairly treated. That sentence does not describe a player most teams would want to be associated with. Fans and media do not know what is happening behind closed doors, but to the public eye this is not a good look for either Bryant or the Steelers.
Bryant and the Steelers appear to be in a no-win situation heading into its home matchup with the Bengals. If Bryant plays sparingly or posts modest numbers, it will only serve to confirm his stance and stoke further questions from the media. However, if Bryant features prominently and has a big individual day, Bryant does not come off looking any better and the Steelers will appear to be caving to their star’s demands. Either way, it is hard to picture a progression of events Sunday where Bryant isn’t the center of attention for the Steelers in a negative way.