By Staff Writer Tom Griffin.
The season-long saga over the status of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ends with a fizzle – Bell’s time with the Steelers is over.
Bell had spent his 2018 season in the grips of a contract holdout with the franchise. He had played no games, dodged training camp in July, and kept no contact with anyone on the Steelers organization, including head coach Mike Tomlin and several of his fellow players.
The running back’s early absences did not come as a surprise to the team. The previous year, Bell had forgone training camp to avoid injuries in the preseason. Once he started missing early September’s practices, and eventually whole games at the start of the regular season, his teammates and coaching staff feared he wouldn’t be coming back.
Bell had, in several different instances throughout the early season, promised to return to the team and play – at the team’s September 5th practice opener, during the team’s week 7 bye, and even after his return to the City of Pittsburgh in early November. He never showed.
Bell’s demands were made remarkably clear: $15 million a year or he wouldn’t play. The Steelers’ front office even bolstered his deal to $70 million in five years, but in his avarice, Bell turned the deal down.
Amidst the holdout chaos, the Steelers players were outraged. Several linemen, notably star center Maurkice Pouncey, were disappointed in bell for abandoning the team for the games that matter, all in the name of making more money.
Bell’s backup, James Conner, kept his head and thrived in Bell’s absence. A downhill runner, Conner’s ability to vertically cover ground matched that of Bell’s patient, more agile running style. Conner performed well in his first few starts of the season, scooping up recognition as the AFC’s offensive player of the week in week 8. As a blessing to the Steelers, he did so without demanding more pay, unlike Bell.
Le’Veon was given one last chance to rejoin his team and reconcile with his teammates: the league-wide trade deadline on November 13th. If he didn’t report to the team and agree to a deal by 4pm on the 13th, he would no longer be eligible to play for the organization. Leaving Miami on the 5th, and reportedly spotted at a Pittsburgh basketball court on the 7th, optimism surrounded Le’Veon Bell’s return to the Steelers.
In the ensuing days, however, that optimism would be all but gone. After returning to Pittsburgh, Bell dissociated from the team on social media, ignored text messages from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and ultimately never visited the team’s offices before the deadline. By league rule, he is ineligible to play for any team, let alone the Steelers, for the rest of the 2018-2019 season. Bell’s tenure as Pittsburgh’s running back is over, and Connor will need to fill the shoes of the former starter.
Next season, Le’Veon Bell will have a new home and a much larger paycheck. Although the money he’s requesting is out of this world for running-backs, there will no doubt be one team in the NFL who will take a flyer on arguably the league’s best after a year of rest.