Ron Cook: Antonio Bryant may have caught his last break

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You have heard people say that life isn't fair?

How's this for an example?

Antonio Bryant -- an immature kid during his terrific playing days at Pitt and an immature man as an NFL receiver without a team nearly a decade later -- has made almost $17 million in the past two years.

There really is no justice in the world.

In case you missed it this week -- perhaps because you're consumed by the Steelers' quarterbacks conundrum and their issues at right tackle and right cornerback -- the Cincinnati Bengals released Bryant despite signing him to a four-year, $28 million deal in the offseason that included bonuses of nearly $7 million. He goes down as the worst free-agent bust in Bengals history and one of the worst in NFL history.

I'm thinking the Bengals got exactly what they deserved.

Go back to the 2002 NFL draft. Bryant won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best college receiver as a Pitt sophomore in 2000, but his production dipped dramatically in '01. Before that '01 season, he was arrested for arguing about a parking ticket with a campus police officer and twice suspended by coach Walt Harris during spring practice, once for missing a conditioning session, the other time for fighting with teammates during a scrimmage.

Despite the suspensions, Harris always defended Bryant, blaming his problems not just on his immaturity but also on his intensity and passion for football. Those of us who knew Bryant found that easy to believe. He was smarter than your typical player, an honors student in high school in Miami.

But NFL teams weren't so sure about Bryant. Nine receivers were taken in the '02 draft before he went to the Dallas Cowboys late in the second round. I remember nosing around Steelers headquarters that draft day, looking for a reason why they passed on Bryant to take Indiana's Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback they planned to convert to wide receiver. An assistant coach was blunt.

"What do we want that headache for?" he asked of Bryant.

Sometimes, a team's best draft choices are the ones it doesn't make.

Bryant lasted 2 1/2 seasons with the Cowboys before being traded to the Cleveland Browns a few months after he threw a practice jersey in the face of Cowboys coach Bill Parcells during a heated minicamp confrontation. He spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Browns before signing a four-year, $14 million deal as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. He made it through just the '06 season with the 49ers before being released after he had problems with coach Mike Nolan and quarterback Alex Smith.

An immature, intense, passionate player?

How about an immature jerk?

During the '06 season, Bryant was stopped for driving his new orange Lamborghini at speeds over 100 mph and charged with reckless driving, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. Although the two latter charges were dropped, Bryant was suspended by the NFL for the final two games of '06 and the first two of '07. There also were reports that he failed a drug test in the summer of '07.

Bryant spent the '07 season out of football.

If life were fair, that would have been the end of his NFL career.

But, as we all know, players with Bryant's ability get second, third, even fourth chances. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to a one-year contract for '08 at the NFL veteran's minimum, $605,000. He responded by having his best season -- 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Buccaneers should have known it was too good to last. They put their franchise tag on Bryant and gave him a contract worth nearly $10 million for '09. He thanked them by grousing about not getting a long-term deal. He took shots at rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. Left knee problems limited his effectiveness.

No wonder the Buccaneers were all too happy to let Bryant leave as a free agent after the season.

What do we want that headache for?

Bryant signed his big contract with the Bengals and made it through just one training-camp practice before his knee acted up. After seeing him struggle in minicamp, the team brought in free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens right before training camp. It released Bryant Sunday.

"It was a good time for the football team to put this behind us because it was going to be a bone of contention and speculation and all the things it stirred up," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told the Cincinnati media Tuesday.

Here's the best part of all this:

Because the Bengals didn't offer Bryant an injury settlement, he will file a grievance seeking $1.55 million that he and his agent say the team owes him for this season.

Here's guessing Bryant will get the money.

Everybody knows life isn't fair.




Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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