By Chris Emma—
(CBS) When it comes to the potential match of disgruntled Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant and the Bears, consider what created Chicago’s void at receiver in the first place.
Upon his arrival as Bears general manager in January 2015, Ryan Pace knew one of his most important tasks at hand was to rid a troubled locker room of any disturbances. He wanted to build a team with quality character and didn’t want any potential problems to reside at Halas Hall.
Brandon Marshall and his volatile personality were moved in March 2015, sent to the Jets for a fifth-round pick that would later produce safety Adrian Amos. After a season of too much talk, Martellus Bennett was traded to the Patriots in March 2016.
Pace made those moves believing that Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White could become a formidable receiving tandem. But Jeffery failed to earn a long-term deal and moved on to Philadelphia in free agency this past offseason, while White has finished three games as a Bear and is on injured reserve for a third straight season.
Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky desperately needs playmakers at receiver, as the Bears’ offensively challenged 17-3 win over the Panthers on Sunday demonstrated. Trubisky completed four passes in being asked to pass just seven times.
Which brings us to Bryant and his potential.
Bryant, 25, has expressed frustration with his role in Pittsburgh, and while Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has attempted to reel the situation in – stating again Tuesday that the team won’t trade Bryant – league executives know a trade could be coming before next Tuesday’s deadline. Bryant has spoken out, speaking with ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Tuesday.
“If they don’t try to include me more and continue to do the same thing, then I want out period,” Bryant told Anderson. “I just want to be happy.
“I would like for it to be here, but if not then oh well. Just got to move on.”
Drafted in the fourth round in 2014, Bryant emerged at Clemson among a group that included DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. He scored 14 touchdowns in 21 games during his first two NFL seasons, but the problems have often trumped the production. Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse. He was then suspended for the entire 2016 season for a repeat offense.
The Steelers drafted receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round this past April because they couldn’t count on Bryant taking the field. Bryant has resented the addition of Smith-Schuster openly, including a comment on Instagram last weekend: “JuJu is nowhere near better than me, fool. All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”
Bryant has since deleted the comment and publicly praised Smith-Schuster.
Despite the tremendous talent of Bryant and a 6-foot-4 frame that could provide Trubisky just what he needs, it’s hard to imagine the Bears being open to this type of potential problem. Bryant the football player is exactly what the Bears are hoping to add, but the baggage he would come with is also what they’ve looked to rid from the locker room. Given his history, Bryant would face a lengthy suspension for a third drug bust, so giving anything up comes at a risk.
It’s possible Pace and his scouting team have done enough work on Bryant – from the pre-draft evaluations in 2014 to now – to feel confident that a change of scenery will make the difference. Bryant would certainly become the No. 1 receiver for a Bears offense desperately seeking targets for Trubisky.
Winners of two straight games, the Bears have touted their close-knit locker room. Is that something they want to jeopardize with a player calling out his teammate in Instagram comments? That’s for Pace to decide.
Acquiring Bryant won’t come at a steep cost given that his desire to leave Pittsburgh is known around the league and his past violations bring zero tolerance. A mid- or even late-round pick should suffice for a trade.
The Bears have a chance to add a terrific talent to their offense, and they badly need it. But Pace will first consider the troubles that brought them here to this point.