Raiders reverse course, cut Keon Hatcher for Martavis Bryant

Updated September 12, 2018 - 7:15 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. Ten days ago, Jon Gruden did not declare that the Raiders’ decision to cut wide receiver Martavis Bryant largely stemmed from their belief he’d soon begin serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Gruden couldn’t.

Formally, the league had yet to conclude its institution of punishment in Bryant’s case. It still hasn’t. Because of the sanctity surrounding the player-discipline process, Gruden was prohibited from conveying publicly the team’s rationale, even if that rationale was widely known.

Through little fault of Gruden, the reason he cited for Bryant’s departure did not hold up with time.

The Raiders officially waived wide receiver Keon Hatcher on Wednesday. This created roster room for Bryant, whom the team waived Sept. 1 as part of its roster reduction from 90 to 53 players. Bryant agreed Tuesday to a one-year contract before signing and practicing Wednesday.

On Sept. 2, Gruden was forced into an awkward position.

He met reporters at a news conference and was asked to discuss a decision he was obligated not to fully explain. The NFL’s substance abuse policy includes confidentiality provisions which state any “player, club or club employee” who violates them is “subject to a fine of up to $500,000 by the (league) commissioner.’

“We expected more from him,” Gruden said of Bryant on Sept. 2. “He did not make the team because Keon Hatcher came on. Some other players outperformed him. I think we covered that during training camp. He missed extended amounts of time.

“You saw Hatcher the other night (in the preseason finale versus the Seattle Seahawks). He’s done it on our practice field. He did it in a game. He can play multiple positions, and he can play on special teams. We tried to keep the five or six best receivers, and that’s what we did.”

Hatcher, whose 24th birthday was Tuesday, played 16 snaps on special teams during Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He showcased his offensive abilities in the Aug. 30 preseason finale with eight catches, 123 yards and three touchdowns.

But the Raiders possessed a dire need for a deep threat in the mold of Bryant.

“He can split double teams,” quarterback Derek Carr said Wednesday. “Teams can try and play certain coverages with him, but he’s so fast, it doesn’t matter. If I key a defender and they make one false step, he can be gone like that. He can run by guys that are off-coverage. He can do things that other people just don’t do.

“That’s not a knock on them. That’s just what God blessed him with: 4.2 speed with that kind of length. … It just adds that dynamic for a coordinator to have to think about.”

Bryant is eligible for competition until a league decision is finalized.

Perhaps, the process between Bryant and the NFL is taking longer to develop than the Raiders first anticipated when they cut Bryant. The league only provides its clubs with so much information during this suspension process, which includes a player appeal. This could explain the reversal with Bryant and Hatcher.

Not that Gruden or the Raiders can fully comment on it anyway.

On Wednesday, Gruden provided his latest $500,000 answer when asked about the difficulty of navigating through the league’s discipline process in regard to Bryant.

“That’s not for my business, let alone me to talk about here today,” Gruden said Wednesday. “But this is a young player that has great talent. We’re happy to have him back. He’s in a great place right now. I’ll just leave it at that.”

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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