Former Cardinals DT Wendell Bryant looking for NFL return (photo source)
Aaron Wilson, a journalist for the Carroll County Times in Maryland and a contributor at Mike Florio's Pro Football Talk, is reporting that DT Wendell Bryant - a first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2002 NFL Draft - recently held a tryout with the Buffalo Bills. (Tip of the hat to Rumbler 'gatornation' for informing us of this story here earlier this morning.)
Bryant, currently weighing in at 295 pounds and standing 6'4", was a standout performer at Wisconsin in college, amassing 24 sacks and 41 tackles for loss in his career with the Badgers. He was the No. 12 overall draft pick in 2002; the Cardinals chose him one spot after the Colts selected DE Dwight Freeney, three spots before the Titans selected DT Albert Haynesworth, and a whopping twelve spots before the Ravens chose S Ed Reed.
Bryant told Wilson that the Bills have not offered him a deal, but that he is "hoping for a chance" to join the team. Meanwhile, Bryant's agent, Marc Lillibridge, said: "He had a great workout for the Bills. They were very impressed."
At age 28, Bryant has only three seasons of NFL football under his belt and has a very checkered past. Signing Bryant would theoretically be low-risk for Buffalo, however; there's no question that there is talent to work with. He would likely be viewed as competition for current fourth defensive tackle John McCargo, a three-year pro. Bryant and McCargo have similar playing styles, with Bryant possessing much more natural athleticism. How much of that athleticism remains after several prolonged stretches of drug use, however, is the big question.
"I went through a period where I just sat on my couch," Bryant said. "There was so much embarrassment at being kicked out of the league. I went into a depression and didn’t want to do anything but be holed up in my house. Drinking and smoking pot became my whole existence. I was in a bad place and I needed help."
Bryant was released by the Cardinals in 2005 after the team learned that Bryant was to be suspended for a full year by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Bryant accumulated just 1.5 sacks in his first three seasons, and has not come close to making a return visit to the NFL since his release - though there has been interest, according to Bryant. He turned down the offers, however.
"I just didn’t want to do it anymore, didn’t want to play football," Bryant said. "I always loved the game, but, at that point in my life, I didn’t want to deal with the rules. I ended up in that drug-induced, alcohol-induced depression from 2007 to early 2008. When my daughter was born, I thought that would be the thing that pulled me of my hell, but it didn’t."
Bryant has been in a substance abuse rehabilitation program since June 3, 2008. As part of the NFL's substance abuse program, Bryant has been tested frequently for banned substances and emerged clean each time within the past eleven months. Now, with Buffalo's tryout under arm and perhaps more coming - Wilson reports that he will consider playing in other leagues as well - Bryant is looking for a way back into the game of football.
"Now, my body feels like it’s at a point where I can still play very well," Bryant said. "Playing football is not something that just goes away just like that. I’m looking forward to a new opportunity and kicking some butt."
We recommend you check out Wilson's report - it's an excellent read, and a pretty uplifting story. It's nice to see a player rebound from a terrible stretch the way Bryant has over the past year. Whether or not Bryant can help an NFL team, however, could remain a mystery. Could he help Buffalo? I'm sure y'all have that on your minds, so let's hear it in the comments section.