In case you haven’t heard, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is unhappy playing on his current deal and is looking to make more than anything he has been offered. He did not play in the Steelers opening game against Cleveland, which ended in a 21-21 tie. It is a sticky situation for Pittsburgh, who have been in a position to contend for all five years Bell has been with them so far, and are trying to make their first Super Bowl since 2010. There is enough blame to go around in the situation, but no one group has come out looking better than the other.
Le’Veon Bell and Adisa Bakari: As one of the best running backs in football for a few seasons now, Bell has every right to want to be paid. On the other hand, it’s possible he wants a little too much. He has been unwilling, so far, to sign a $14.5 million franchise tender, and even turned down a five-year, $70 million contract in the offseason. That may seem like a lot to ask from a player who has only played 16 games in a season once in five years.
Nevertheless, Bell is a vital player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, shown by his 742 touches over the past two seasons. Bell and his agent, Adisa Bakari, have stated that Bell wants to “protect his value long term”, and sitting out half a season would be a way to do that. In an interview with CBS Sports, Bakari mentioned that Bell’s usage is a reason he’s willing to sit out. Perhaps the most important aspect is that Bell seems to have lost some of the faith of his offensive line, which made DeAngelo Williams the second-best running back (in terms of fantasy football) during the time Bell was out in 2016. Who’s to say the same won’t happen for James Conner?
The Team: After Bell missed the Wednesday practice before Pittsburgh’s game against Cleveland, some members of the team expressed their frustration to the media. Offensive linemen Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey were among them.
“If you don’t want to be here, it is what it is. Hold out 10 weeks” was said by Pouncey to ESPN, and another unnamed player was quoted as saying, “He f—ed us”.
It’s a bad look for the Steelers, as it can be seen as a disrespectful move talking negatively about another player and his contract, especially about how much money they make. This is an issue that could’ve easily been left behind the scenes without players venting to the media, and it’s something you don’t see teams like the New England Patriots do, which could be seen as a big reason they’re still on top.
Even though Bell threatened to hold out or even retire in the offseason without a new deal, it’s easy to see how his absence could cause some frustration in the locker room. It is also understandable if the team feels as if Bell has abandoned the team so far, which could cause problems later on in the season, especially on a team poised for a Super Bowl run. It might also signal to some deeper issues in the Pittsburgh locker room; time will tell.
Steelers Front Office: GM Kevin Colbert knows that Bell is one of the most important players on his team, so why wouldn’t he pay him what he wants? The salary cap is usually an issue for Pittsburgh, but a player as elite as Bell justifies restructuring some contracts to make it work. If the front office didn’t want to pay Bell, they could attempt a trade, although more than likely it would be a rental for the team receiving him. Even if they did, Bell can’t sign a new long-term deal until he hits free agency in March.
With that being the case, Pittsburgh probably wouldn’t get everything they want for Bell, but if they get tired of dealing with him, it may just be the best option. There are several potential landing spots for the star running back, but without a Herschel Walker or Ricky Williams-like return, it likely won’t be happening. Bell has repeatedly expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh, even though “circumstances change”.
Even if the front office could free the money to pay Bell what he wants, it’s highly unlikely he remains a Steeler after the 2018 season. Ownership has kept most players on a short leash in recent times, with players such as Santonio Holmes and Martavis Bryant shipped out after some off-the-field issues.
to all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler…both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times…to the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let youu down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date…
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 16, 2018
While it would be a shame for Pittsburgh to lose one of their top two players, it might be necessary at this point in order to sort out the team. If Pittsburgh had traded Bell two years ago before he first went on the franchise tag, they could’ve received an impressive haul for him. Both Bell and the team could’ve made this easier by keeping the situation in-house, but it’s been out in the open for a while, and it could cause some issues for the Steelers in the near future.
The Big Question: Can Pittsburgh survive without Bell?
That seems to depend on how you look at it. Pittsburgh’s running game didn’t miss a beat against an improved Cleveland defense, with James Conner rushing for 135 yards, along with catching 5 balls for 57 yards. After his first touchdown, he immediately went to celebrate with his offensive linemen. In a bit of a surprise, it was the Steelers passing game that looked flat, with Ben Roethlisberger committing five turnovers. The problem lies in the fact that Conner doesn’t change up opposing game plans like Bell would. Even with him getting a bigger workload, teams can shift back in coverage to slow down star receiver Antonio Brown.
It’s fair to say the Steelers don’t face an elite defense until week 10 when they travel to face Jacksonville, so missing Le’Veon Bell might not be as bad as originally thought. Obviously, when you have someone with the kind of talent that Bell has, you want them on the field if possible. Although even if they end up having to rely on James Conner in the run game, things might just end up alright in the Steel City.