With Thursday’s release of wide receiver Antonio Bryant, the 49ers are belatedly acknowledging that talent isn’t enough if it isn’t accompanied by character. Just as the Raiders are doing as they prepare to either trade or release Randy Moss.
Moss is the more extreme example of the divide between talent and character.
With his combination of speed, size and leaping ability, Moss is the most dangerous wide receiver in the game. But with his attitude, he’s also poison to the team dynamic. That’s why the Minnesota Vikings consented to a lopsided trade with the Raiders two years ago, just to get rid of him.
Now, his departure from the Raiders is certain. If they keep him, they have to pay him $9 million this year. They prefer to trade him. And the Green Bay Packers are interested. But if they can’t make a trade, they’ll release him and take only a $1 million hit on the salary cap.
Bryant is neither as talented nor as troublesome as Moss, but there were warning signs with him, too, because he had problems with two other teams, Dallas and Cleveland.
Forty-Niners coach Mike Nolan made a fundamental mistake in signing Bryant, thinking he could channel Bryant’s aggression into playmaking on the field while toning down his volatile behavior.
Teams often think they can change a talented but troubled player, but that seldom happens. The best example now is Terrell Owens, who has tantalized and tormented the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys since leaving the 49ers.
Football is the ultimate team sport. Oneproblem player can tear a team apart, as Owens has done with three teams now and Moss with two. Bryant’s behavior wasn’t as destructive but it became increasingly worrisome.
It didn’t start out that way. I remember the excitement in training camp scrimmages when quarterback Alex Smith hooked up with Bryant on deep patterns. With the even faster rookie tight end Vernon Davis, it seemed Smith would have two deep threats to throw to.
Davis, though, developed a case of the dropsies and then was injured.
Bryant started strong with eight catches for 235 yards in his first two games. Then, the problems started. He erupted in rages, one time making a gesture after Smith’s pass sailed well over his head that showed up the quarterback, a real no-no.
He had arguments with coaches, including Nolan, which resulted in him not starting one game. He was charged with reckless driving and resisting arrest after allegedly going more than 100 mph in his Lamborghini. The NFL suspended him for four games, the last two of last season and the first two of the 2007 season, for violation of the substance abuse policy.
Nolan met with Bryant’s agent at the NFL combine last week to discuss Bryant’s release. The 49ers will take less than a $1 million hit on the salary cap.
Despite his problems, on and off the field, Bryant still caught 40 passes, third on the 49ers, for a team-leading 733 yards last season.
His departure means one less weapon for Smith and Jim Hostler, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
But Nolan has made it clear what kind of team he is trying to build — and Bryant doesn’t fit into that model. Talent does not trump character.