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Misconceptions Surrounding Le’Veon Bell, Part 3: The immature and oft-injured

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have a unique relationship. With that said, the Steelers’ All-Pro running back is also extremely misunderstood.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In the first parts of this series, we dove into some of the rumors and misconceptions surrounding Le’Veon Bell’s greed and his unreasonable (or not-at-all-unreasonable) desire to be paid like a No. 1 RB and a No. 2 WR. We also discussed the (incorrect assumptions about) the implications his tag and future contract have regarding the cap. In this part, we’re going to dig even deeper and talk immaturity and injuries. In case you missed the previous articles, the links can be found at the bottom of this article.

Bell’s suspensions have cost him two games in 2015 and another three in 2016. This is one more game than shoo-in HOFer Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended for during his entire career. Does this make Bell a team liability? Keep in mind that young men make poor and immature decisions in the NFL (and outside the NFL) all the time. It’s how one learns from those transgressions and avoids sliding back into those behaviors that is important.

It’s also important to keep in mind that injuries are part of the NFL. Linebackers who are 250 pounds and run a sub-4.6 are commonplace. If Pittsburgh was concerned with Bell’s injury history, or thought his problems were chronic, the team would not even be trying to sign Bell to an extension. Roethlisberger has missed numerous games in his career, but that’s never stopped Pittsburgh from signing him to two giant extensions. Nor is the team concerned with Bell’s past injuries.

No. 1: Bell is a repeat offender in the NFL’s drug policy and, as such, is a liability for future discipline.

Time to set some things straight here. Being busted for marijuana possession and DUI August 20, 2014, pushed Bell into the NFL’s substance abuse program. However, Bell did not fail a drug test before he was handed a three-game suspension in 2016. He did miss multiple drug tests due to miscommunication with the tester.

”I’ve never purposely missed any tests. I’ve never failed any tests,” Bell said, according to the Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley. “I had surgery in November of last year. They tried to test me in November and December and I missed those tests. I couldn’t make it to the facility to get tested and they couldn’t come to me, and I missed those tests. I put all the blame on myself. In April, they tried to test me on a Saturday at 7 a.m. and I was sleeping. I can’t put the blame on anyone but me.”

It’s up to you to decide whether to blame this on immaturity or a real miscommunication issue or a fear he would not be able to pass a test. However, unlike its fans, the NFL does not hold a grudge, and regardless of what you chose to blame his actions on, Bell will transition from Stage 2 of the substance abuse program to Stage 1 come August. Correction, Bell will no longer be in the program come August. No matter how you slice it, he hasn’t failed a drug test or ran afoul of the law in 43 months.

Personally, I’m going to pin the blame on Bell’s immaturity. I am not going to hold his reckless past and poor decisions over his head forever. If you want to jettison one of the best running backs in the NFL because of something he did three and a half years ago, that is up to you. I, on the other hand, will give him the benefit of doubt and not continue to crucify him for something he did at 22. Do you still hold eight-year-old, much more serious allegations against Ben?

All NFL contracts come preloaded with clauses that carry with them forfeiture of bonus money and an easy out for a team to release a truly problematic player, but Pittsburgh has made no move to do so. And while it would be an issue for Pitt to lose Bell for multiple games due to a suspension, it is not detrimental money-wise, so Bell’s unwise actions didn’t actually cost the team money.

No. 2: Bell’s significant injuries will lead to a shorter career.

While this holds true with Terrell Davis with his chronic knees, nothing leads to think Bell will travel the same path.

List of Bell’s injuries

  • 2013: A Lisfranc sprain suffered during the preseason hindered Bell’s availability for the first three games.
  • 2013: A Week 13 Grade 1 concussion did not result in any missed games.
  • 2014: Bell takes a heavy shot to his knee and suffers a hyperextension that cost him the playoffs.
  • 2015: A Grade 3 torn MCL cost Bell the remaining eight games of the season. The injury resulted in surgery as the MCL was completely torn on a controversial tackle.
  • 2016: Bell suffers a sports hernia that ended up requiring surgery. The injury was never reported on the NFL’s injury report, so it is unclear when it occurred.

None of the injuries Bell has sustained should be seen as career shortening or chronic -- not even the knee ligament tear. When fans think of knee injuries, they always cringe. However, an MCL tear is not a major knee injury. It is quite common. MCLs are like getting a wisdom tooth pulled compared to the more severe ACL tear.

If you do want to argue that the MCL tear will be career shortening, I’ll hold up Frank Gore as the poster child for disputing this idea. Gore tore two ACLs in college -- far more serious injuries than Bell’s MCL tear. Is Gore a superstar at 34? No -- nor should he be expected to be, especially since he was on a horrific team in 2017. And Gore hasn’t missed a game in seven years. He is a surefire HOF RB sitting behind fourth-place Martin by less than 100 yards. Now, Pitt is not looking to sign Bell through age 34, only through 30 or 31. Yet at 34, Gore is still highly effective, rushing for over 1,100 yards each year, and he’s done so with two much more severe knee injuries than what Bell suffered.

No. 3: Running backs have shorter NFL careers.

Well, that’s technically true, but this is a very misleading statement. Let’s delve into this statement further.

  • The NFL career lifespan for all NFL players is 3.3 years.
  • The average NFL career for an RB is 2.57 years.
  • Wide receivers do not fare much better at 2.81 years.
  • Quarterbacks, the huge money makers in the NFL, average 4.44 years.
  • The average career of an NFL player who makes the opening-day roster jumps to six years.
  • The average career of a player who is in the league at least three years jumps to 7.1 years.
  • A player with at least one Pro Bowl appearance/selection jumps to 11.7 years.

I am not saying that Bell is going to get to age 35 as Gore has, but he has already surpassed the average career of an NFL back and does not have chronic knees like Terrell Davis. It is very rare to see Bell lit up by a vicious hit in Sanders fashion. Most are glancing blows or simply regular tackles.

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Will Bell learn from his past mistakes? Will he continue to remain on the straight and narrow? Only time will tell. Why be pessimistic and believe he will fall back into the lifestyle he was leading nearly four years ago?

Past injuries are not an indicator of future success. Chronic injuries do derail careers, but these types of injuries Bell has not suffered. Terrell Davis was forced to retire after seven seasons, but his last three were not productive because of his injuries. Is there an indication that Bell will not last until he is 34 like Gore? Realistically speaking, he probably will not. But, then, Pitt is not looking to sign him to an 8-year contract.

In the next part of this series, I will delve into fallacies regarding Bell and his statistics along with the idea that this might be a sign that his ability is actually in decline.

Part One: Greed and Loyalty

Part Two: The Steelers Salary Cap Killer