Steelers players want to help Martavis Bryant but don't know how

Josh Gordon reminds Martavis Bryant has long journey back (1:16)

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports on the Steelers, who can't assume Bryant will make it back from his year-long suspension in part because of the poor track record of troubled/talented receivers. (1:16)

Bigger than football.

That's the phrase linebacker Arthur Moats repeated as he discussed Martavis Bryant's yearlong suspension that leaves the ready-made Pittsburgh Steelers scrambling to replace the explosive receiver for the second straight offseason.

The Steelers have every right to be frustrated with Bryant's inability to function within the guidelines of the NFL substance abuse policy. And they are.

But Bryant's teammates say they would welcome him back and want to help. Many have sent text messages to Bryant, who often replies with a generality about coming back stronger.

Otherwise, there's not much else to do. Bryant's not around. His whereabouts are uncertain.

"From the football standpoint, you can definitely get frustrated because it's not contributing to winning," Moats said of Bryant's problems. "But it's bigger than football. We just want to let him know we're here for him in any way he might need. We try to look at it as him the person, instead of what he brings to the field."

Bryant also served a four-game suspension in 2015 for multiple failed drug tests. His latest ban undercuts his enormous talent, which produced 17 total touchdowns in his first 23 NFL games, playoffs included.

The Steelers begin offseason workouts Monday, with former third-round pick Sammie Coates expected to join the team's core receiver rotation in Bryant's absence. Coates considers Bryant a friend, and he'd prefer Bryant was with the team for support. Coates has given Bryant space but told him via text he's praying for him.

Bryant issued a statement through National Football Post vowing to "become the best Martavis Bryant I can be" and eventually resume his career.

"He's a great guy," Coates said. "All you can do is continue to pray for him. I'm looking forward to getting him back at some point."

While serving the suspension, Bryant can't be a part of team activities at the facility. No contact is permitted between the parties, similar to the setup with Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon in 2015. Bryant must simply stay away, though Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said NFL owners are expected to discuss team access to suspended players at some point this offseason.

Running back DeAngelo Williams believes Bryant should be able to work behind the scenes at the facility -- in fact, he says, the NFL should make him come to work. Williams considers a locker room a "support system" for troubled players.

"How do you expect him to get better?" Williams asked. "He should be around his teammates. When you're 25 years old and a millionaire and you stay in your old neighborhood, nobody knows what you're going through."

The NFL schedule of six months exclusively with teammates followed by months of down time can be difficult for some players to balance, Williams said. NFL players have similar interests, and pressures. They can help each other. Moats agrees, saying unless Bryant is in a rehabilitation facility, he'd prefer him in the team facility often to avoid isolation.

Now, Bryant faces a second strike with a franchise that tries to promote a family atmosphere but is running out of patience.

Moats said he commends the Steelers for not cutting Bryant because the decision shows they care and "stand behind what they say" as a supportive franchise. But he acknowledges something has to give.

"The first time, that was the initial time of going public of having failed [drug tests] before, and everybody was a little shocked, and it was like, 'Yo, you've got to be smart,'" Moats said. "You didn't think it was a major issue, just potential immaturity -- learn from it and move on. Now, you understand this is something he truly needs more help about."

Teammates don't know exactly what that help means right now, or if Bryant is even getting it.

That's the hardest part.

"I'm not saying he's hanging around bad people, but just the point where we want to help him and we can't help him if he can't be with us [day to day]," Williams said.