Martavis Bryant is done for the season, placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a knee injury.
Whether the wide receiver ever wears a Raiders uniform again remains to be seen. If not, the Raiders burned a third-round draft pick for eight games, two starts, 19 receptions, 266 yards, no touchdowns and some headaches they knew were possible.
It was an old Al Davis move. Get the talent in the building, then fix it.
When the Raiders host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the hope was Bryant would line up against his former team as the vertical threat the offense desperately needed.
Bryant had been back the practice field recently after missing the last three games. Coach Jon Gruden had expressed optimism about a return, although he amended that Monday to say he had “no sense” when Bryant might be ready and joked that unused plays for the wide receiver were “going stale in my office.”
Last week, Bryant said he was simply doing what was asked of him, and told teammates he had doubts about the condition of his knee.
The draft-day trade was a roll of the dice on a talented 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver with game-changing speed who is only 26 years old.
“Potential is a tough word in the football business,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “He has something that a lot of people don’t have. I think we’ve all seen that ... there is so much there that you just want to un-tap and hopefully we’ll do that for a lot of years together.”
Seems unlikely at this point, at least with the Raiders. Bryant is in the last year of his contract and won’t be swamped with offers, but it’s easy to see the Raiders moving on rather than sweating out the next potential problem.
The bottom line is after the Raiders dealt Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round draft pick, it was Bryant’s big chance to step forward. Whether it was his fault or not, Bryant wasn’t able to answer the bell.
When Bryant was acquired, Gruden said he’d watched him practice in his role as an analyst for Monday Night Football and was impressed. Good reviews also came from Mike Tomlin, who worked on Gruden’s staff in Tampa Bay.
In a conference call with Bay Area media, Tomlin was reluctant to discuss Bryant’s production with the Raiders (the call came before the news Bryant had gone on injured reserve).
“I’m not involved with what’s going on with him there and I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to have an opinion in that regard,” Tomlin said. “I appreciated his efforts while he was here. He was a positive contributor to our efforts, and largely it was a really good experience. We wished him well and that sentiment remains the same.”
On his first visit to the facility on April 27, Bryant said all the right things.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” Bryant said. “I’ve had my difficulties in the past, but I’ve come a long way from that. It’s all about keeping the right resources around me and continuing to stay on the right path.”
Yet the baggage Bryant brought with him was considerable. He’d already been suspended twice for being in violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, including the entire 2016 season.
So Bryant was just one slip-up from an indefinite suspension. He remained tethered to the NFL in that regard, responsible for passing drug tests and making all appointments monitoring his progress.
A report in July indicated Bryant could be facing another suspension, and around that time he began missing training camp practices with headaches which were said to be migraines.
Gruden started calling Bryant the “white tiger,” joking that Busch Gardens had a white tiger that only occasionally came out in the open, disappointing all the people that had come see it. It slowed Bryant’s progress in learning a new system which required him to learn all the receiver positions and essentially master an entirely new language.
The Raiders were nervous enough about Bryant they waived him at the final cutdown, only to bring him back in Week 2. It was telling that no other team stepped up when Bryant was there for the taking.
As much as Gruden loves talent, he’s equally big on accountability, reliability and an outward enthusiasm for practice and everything that goes in to football.
Bryant came up short in those areas as well, although there was no sign of the player who helped burn a bridge out of Pittsburgh by being critical of the team when he fell behind JuJu Smith-Schuster in the pecking order of wide receivers.
With the Raiders, Bryant was quiet, well-received by his teammates and unfailingly soft-spoken and polite with the media. There were no complaints about his effort-level or attitude.
If the Raiders are done with Bryant, they didn’t get much for their third-round draft pick. It could be been someone exceptional such as guard Gabe Jackson, a third-rounder in 2014. More likely, it would have been a player who made the roster and was eventually sent on his way, such as Sio Moore (2013) and Clive Walford (2015).
“I think a change of scenery can unleash his greatness,” Gruden said the day Bryant joined the roster.
Looks like another coach may be saying the same thing next year.