On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers made some tough decisions getting their 90-man offseason roster down to the league mandated 53 players for the regular season.
One position where tough decisions were made was at the running back position. The Steelers chose to cut Fitzgerald Toussaint, rather keeping Stevan Ridley, James Conner and rookie Jaylen Samuels.
And this is all based on Le’Veon Bell returning for the Week 1 game vs. the Cleveland Browns.
After all, it was former Steelers legend James Harrison who was on TV and radio this week talking about how Bell would be wise to sit out a few games, rather than report before the opening game as he did last year.
Here was Harrison’s logic on the situation:
"Everybody's assuming that Le'Veon is coming back week 1. He has a whole mess of money to lose vs what he's going to lose per week."— Speak For Yourself (@SFY) August 28, 2018
James Harrison explains why Le'Veon Bell may not return to the Steelers by week 1. @jharrison9292 pic.twitter.com/qKM8EQrPAZ
Whether you agree with Harrison’s thoughts on Bell is irrelevant, but it made me think about if the Steelers are equipped for life without Bell — whether this year or next year when it’s assumed he will leave via free agency.
If Bell were to miss any part of 2018 to start the season, James Conner’s performance during the preseason should ease fans’ minds regarding Bell’s potential absence. Not only is Conner improved as a runner, but he’s shown a tremendous amount of improvement in the receiving game.
Add in Stevan Ridley’s hard-nosed running style combined with Jaylen Samuels’ versatility in the passing game, and you have yourself a pretty nice stable of running backs.
But the one aspect where the Steelers might be lacking isn’t in the running game, and not really in the passing game. The big difference between Bell and his counterparts is by far in pass protection. Bell doesn’t get enough credit, but he’s one of the best pass-protecting running backs in the league, while Conner and company have proven to have their weaknesses in this area.
The fact of the matter is Bell and the Steelers are destined for divorce. As my co-host on our weekly podcast The Standard is the Standard once said, “The Steelers and Bell are staying together this year just for the kids. After this year, they are done.”
It seems the writing is on the wall for Bell’s eventual departure, and it seems as if the Steelers are on their way to at least being respectable in the running game when Bell does indeed go elsewhere. In the meantime, the hope should be for Bell to return to the Steelers as soon as possible and help the team in their quest to win a 7th Super Bowl.