When the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to put the Exclusive Rights Franchise Tag on Le’Veon Bell for the second straight season, they knew there was no way Bell would show up to anything in the offseason, or preseason, without a long-term contract.
This is exactly what he did last season while on the franchise tag, and many wondered if his absence impacted his overall ability to help the offense early in the season. Statistics aside, Bell feels his absence during Organized Team Activities (OTAs), mandatory minicamp, training camp and the preseason has a huge benefit to him, and his health.
From his viewpoint, it allows him to preserve his body, putting less stress on those joints which help him make money and ultimately a new contract. In a recent interview Bell gave to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, he talked about his offseason workouts, and how they don’t revolve around the typical football training.
Bell has been participating in a variety of workouts, including boxing to “stay off my joints in the offseason as much as possible.”
Much has been made about his durability, especially with the amount of times he touches the football both in the running and passing games, but Bell doesn’t compare those touches to the usual running back’s touches.
Why? Because he rarely gets hit hard by defenders.
“I don’t really compare myself to a lot of other running backs — that’s no offense to any other running back, but just the fact that I can see and avoid hits,” Bell said. “It’s not like when I get the ball 30 times or 35 times and I’m really taking 30 car crashes. Either I’m delivering the blow or I’m getting to the ground. I’m sore after games, but it’s not like I’m aching. I don’t have to miss practices. I can go full speed and be good.”
This is all well and good, but the flip side to this narrative is the fact he won’t be with his teammates during those crucial workouts preparing for the regular season. Last year, despite what Bell and Mike Tomlin said, the rust was evident for the first quarter of the season likely due to his absence throughout the preseason.
Check out his statistics in those first four games of 2017:
Week 1 vs. Cleveland — 10 rushes, 32 yards / 3 receptions, 15 yards
Week 2 vs. Minnesota — 27 rushes, 87 yards / 4 receptions, 4 yards
Week 3 vs. Chicago — 15 rushes, 61 yards, 1 TD / 6 receptions, 37 yards
Week 4 vs. Baltimore — 35 rushes, 144 yards, 2 TD / 4 receptions, 42 yards
As you can see, it took Bell almost a quarter of the season until he really started hitting his stride. Sure, he was fresh, but the offensive line had been practicing, and playing with, runners like James Conner and Fitzgerald Toussaint all preseason, none of which have the running style of Bell.
This isn’t just about Bell’s preparation and health, it is about the team being prepared for the regular season. Maybe last year taught the team something for them to be better prepared for this season, but if the two sides can’t come to terms on a new deal, and Bell sits, you may want to take a look at the first four games of the season and wonder just how much the team will be able to get out of Bell in those games.
It is a delicate situation, to say the least, but Bell is looking out for his long-term health, and it is difficult to disagree with his thinking while in his current contractual situation.