At age 29, Martavis Bryant believes he still has plenty of football left in him.
The former NFL star signed with the Toronto Argonauts on Monday through the 2022 season, following multiple suspensions for substance abuse violations. Out of football since 2018, the six-foot-four, 210-pound former Clemson receiver is anxious to resume his pro career in Canada.
"It's just a new start for me, a new beginning," Bryant said during a telephone interview. "I still have a lot of ball in me.
"I still want to play and still have a lot left on the table."
Bryant spent five seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2014-17) and Oakland Raiders (2018), registering 145 catches for 2,183 yards and 17 TDs in 44 career games. But he was also suspended several times for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
NFL.com reported in July multiple teams had expressed interest in Bryant but that he hadn't applied for reinstatement after receiving an indefinite suspension in 2018 while with Oakland. He hasn't played in the league since that ban.
Bryant was suspended for the 2016 season for multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy. He also received a four-game ban in 2015 for violating the policy.
According to multiple media reports, the NFL suspended Bryant for marijuana use but since he’s not longer under contract with a team south of the border he was free to sign with Toronto. Also, marijuana is not on the league's prohibited list so Bryant isn't penalized under the CFL/CFLPA drug policy.
"People learn from their mistakes," Bryant said. "I was younger and I know people say that all the time but at the end of the day it's about maturing, owning up to what went wrong and just changing it.
"I'm good now. I don't even worry about it."
Neither is Argos rookie head coach Ryan Dinwiddie.
"I believe he's matured and got past all that stuff," he said. "We're moving forward with him."
Bryant isn't the first high-profile player to come with the Argos after issues south of the border. In the early part of the century, when current general manager Michael (Pinball) Clemons was head coach, the team brought in receivers Robert Baker, R. Jay Soward and Andre Rison and running back Ricky Williams following suspensions or brushes with the law.
The Argos also signed former Buffalo Bills running back Karlos Williams last year after multiple substance-abuse suspensions.
Bryant isn't concerned that he hasn't played football since 2018.
"I still know how to play the game," he said. "People just don't know what I've been doing.
"I've been training, I've been working out, I've been running. I've been staying active the last two years. I'm super excited to get back into this."
But not only will Bryant be playing football in a different country, he'll also have to adjust to a different game. The CFL plans to resume play in 2021 after cancelling the '20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryant expects to bend the ear of Argos defensive back Shaquille Richardson, a former teammate with Pittsburgh and Oakland.
"It's a new challenge for me," Bryant said. "It's a different game compared to the (NFL) but I'm sure the game speed is pretty much the same.
"I'm going to sit down with and talk with (Richardson) and I'm going to learn a few things from him. I'm going to get accustomed to it pretty well, I'm not really worried about it, I'm just super excited."
Dinwiddie likes the potential mismatches a receiver like Bryant can create on the field.
"I think the wider field will allow him to get more isolated and give him more room to take advantage of his skillset," Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie plans on having Bryant initially lining up as a wide receiver. But he'd also like to use him as a slotback once Bryant becomes more acclimated with Canadian football.
"I think early on most American rookies, if it fits, I try to put them outside because it's easier for them to transition to the CFL game," Dinwiddie said. "But we'd like to put him in the slot, too, to see if we can't get him on different DBs and move him around some so they can't always know exactly where he lines up.
"He wants to play football and at the highest level he can, which is here. I think he's eager to prove he's still got a lot left in the tank."
But Bryant said emphatically he's not coming to Toronto only with an eye on a return to the NFL
"One step at a time," he said. "'I'm ready to get out there and just take it one step at a time and do what I've got to do to bring excitement to the city and play great for my teammates and show I'm dependable.
"I'm coming up there to continue to love what I do, which is to play the game of football and have fun doing it. I've watched some (CFL) games . . . but I still have a lot of learning to do."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press