Daniel Bryan has been a hot topic in the wrestling world for many months now, with plenty of speculation from fans regarding when we might see him return to the ring. That said, it could be sooner rather than later if his current storyline with Shane McMahon has been any indication.
However, it has yet to be made clear whether Bryan will be wrestling in WWE or not, assuming he ever competes again at all. In a recent update provided by Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc), he has yet to be cleared by WWE doctors, though that could change.
It must be noted how valuable of an asset he remains to WWE, regardless of what role he's in, but if the SmackDown general manager desperately wants to step back inside the squared circle and the company refuses to give him the green light, he might not hesitate to take his talents elsewhere.
That begs the question of how WWE would go about writing him off WWE programming if that indeed was the case. We might already have our answer based on how he has been featured on SmackDown Live lately.
Aside from his ongoing feud with The Miz, Bryan was largely heard from but rarely seen on SmackDown during the first year of the renewed brand split. It was wise to keep the focus away from the authority figures (unlike on Raw), but Bryan and Shane have had a much more prominent role on the show recently in their rivalry with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
Fellow columnist Ryan Dilbert made an excellent point in his own article regarding the matter: The duo is holding the blue brand back, especially if the end game isn't a Bryan vs. Shane match.
Sure, Bryan bringing in a surrogate to compete for him against Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 34 is plausible, but that wouldn't likely serve a purpose. Besides, Shane has previously lost to Owens, and a Shane vs. Zayn match isn't WrestleMania-worthy.
Above all else, turning Bryan heel in this scenario, which appears to be the direction WWE is headed in with this angle, would be a massive mistake. He is too over with the audience at this point to even tease turning heel, and anyone he aligns with would be revered as a hero as well.
Henceforth, the writing is on the wall for Bryan's impending departure from WWE, and with his contract reportedly up in September 2018, according to WrestlingInc, this storyline with Shane could culminate with Bryan ultimately exiting the organization entirely.
To his credit, Bryan has done an exceptional job as SmackDown general manager over the last year-and-a-half, but making matches and being berated by active wrestlers doesn't seem to be something he's interested in long-term.
There is no denying that another run for Bryan in the ring would generate a ton of buzz, not to mention he's not getting any younger at the age of 36. Extending his latest deal with WWE would be risky, because it could mean he'll be relegated to more non-wrestling work for the next several years.
It would be odd for Shane and Bryan to go back to being buddy-buddy with each other after all the animosity that has been teased between them. It has to be headed somewhere, and if Bryan wrestling for WWE again isn't in the cards, then the only other logical explanation is Bryan being taken off TV.
At Clash of Champions on Dec. 17, the careers of Owens and Zayn will be on the line in a match against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura, so we should get a better idea of what the future holds for Bryan after that event. After all, Bryan didn't appear to be too thrilled by Shane's announcement of the matchup at the end of the show.
Bryan has excelled at everything asked of him since his in-ring retirement from serving as the SmackDown GM to sitting in on commentary for the Cruiserweight Classic, but there's only so much more he can do in a non-physical capacity.
WWE would be wise to let him walk if he isn't happy with where he is at the moment, even if that means giving him time off before his contract is up next year. Either way, this Bryan vs. Shane storyline will be interesting to follow in the months ahead and whether it will, in fact, lead to a possible exit.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.