Even if none of his teammates really expected to see Le’Veon Bell in training camp this offseason, there seemed to be an overriding sense of belief that he would arrive at team facilities before the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Cleveland Browns in their season opener. After he failed to show on Wednesday and his agent gave a radio interview on his clients behalf suggesting Bell would not be ending his holdout anytime soon, there has been a change of heart in the locker room.
Players who had once his back in the face of criticism from many within Steeler Nation appear to have reached their limit in terms of sympathy, and there was a palpable sense of betrayal from many along the offensive line when speaking to the media after practice.
Ramon Foster was one of the more vocal names to call out the team’s star running back, clearly offended by a player so willing to walk away from significantly more money than virtually anyone else on the roster will earn in 2018.
More Ramon Foster on Bell: “He’s making 7 times what I make twice as much as Al (Villanueva) is making and we’re the guys who do it for him.”— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 5, 2018
Ramon Foster on Le'Veon Bell: "Nobody is taking this well at all. That guy comes in half the season and he still will make more than me so f*** it, right?" @TheAthleticPGH— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) September 5, 2018
Ramon Foster on Bell turning down nearly $1M a week to not be here: "In the ultimate team sport we’ve created a league of individuals."— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 5, 2018
Ramon Foster, Steelers player rep, responding to Bell's agent saying the franchise tag system is broken: "Tell his agent we voted no on the CBA. Until he tells his other clients to save money during the CBA lockout, he doesn't need to preach about nothing like that."— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) September 5, 2018
Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey not siding with Le'Veon Bell now. Foster: "Right now, we're dealing with the aspect, Do you want to do it for us or do you really want to wait it out? Pounce offered him to come in and still nothing."— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 5, 2018
Foster scoffs at on Bell's agent saying his client is worried about wear and tear on his body: "....Pounce has a knee, Al has this, Dave has that... so many guys have sacrificed for this game because it's the ultimate team sport. Its 11 guys doing one job and that’s win."— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 5, 2018
Foster on how Bell would be received upon return: “I don’t know how well that’s gonna go. “(Expletive), we’re here breaking our back.” Bell absence “disheartening, selfish. Pay me $14 million, OK? Who’s not gonna do that? Whatever his thing is, so be it, but we’re gonna roll.”— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) September 5, 2018
Ramon Foster with a big knock on Bell: "My mom died, I went to the funeral and came to camp the next day... Al (Villanueva) has seen people die and has come and given his all to this team."— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) September 5, 2018
He adds, "It's a little bit tiresome now. I'm tired of the antics." #Steelers @937theFan
Maurkice Pouncey was equally offended by Bell’s actions and rather notably, the remarks of his agent.
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey on Bell: “we just finally accept things at some point and you’re like, all right, if you don’t want to be here, t is what it is, hold out for 10 weeks”— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 5, 2018
Maurkice Pouncey said of course teammates generally stay out of each other's contract negotiations, maneuvering, etc. "But at some point, you need to say, 'I just want to play football.'"— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
Maurkice Pouncey on the absence of Le’Veon Bell: “At this point, it’s bigger than business.” #Steelers— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
Maurkice Pouncey on Le’Veon Bell’s agent suggesting he’d like to know #Steelers plan for the RB this year: “That’s just stupid. You can’t play football like that.”— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
Maurkice Pouncey is clearly DONE w/ Le’Veon Bell’s absence. Says he’d much prefer Bell just say when he’s going to show up, even if it’s Week 10: “Why play hide and seek? Why let your agent say this? Just man up and tell us what you’re going to do.”— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
Pouncey: "Obviously it's Le'Veon over the Steelers and we are the Steelers"— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 5, 2018
Steelers players coming out much stronger on Bell, taking his absence personally. “It’s bigger than business,” M. Pouncey said. Some players felt he played ‘peek-a-boo’ by not committing to absence earlier.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 5, 2018
Maurkice Pouncey: "The business part...I get it. But not if it's game day. We have a game this Sunday, we're all the way into the gameplan and you're still not here?"— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 5, 2018
Pouncey “kinda pissed off” at Bell. “At this point, go ahead and miss 10 (games),” after which Bell can report, still be a UFA in ‘19. “Obviously, it’s Le’Veon over the Steelers. At this point, it’s bigger than business. We’re the Steelers and we’re gonna play as the Steelers.”— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) September 5, 2018
Asked if the agent is controlling Le'Veon Bells, absence, C Maurkice Pouncey had this gem: "If it's his agent, hell, I wouldn't sign with him."— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) September 5, 2018
David DeCastro seemed to feel he had been misled by Bell, clearly expecting him to have arrived in Pittsburgh by now.
Steelers All-Pro G David DeCastro on Bell absence: “I think we’re all disappointed. What’s the expression? We’re stuck with our foot in our mouth. We all thought he’dbe here.”— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 5, 2018
David DeCastro wasn't happy with Le'Veon Bell's no-show: "We all thought he'd be here today. He makes us all kind of look stupid a little bit." @TheAthleticPGH— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) September 5, 2018
DeCastro on Bell -- "Just sit out the whole year then."— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) September 5, 2018
The criticism was not just limited to the members of the offensive line, with defensive team captain Cam Heyward obviously disappointed Bell had not ended his holdout.
#Steelers DE Cam Heyward, also a team captain, said this: "Either you get on the bus or not." And if Le'Veon Bell doesn't appear to want on that bus just yet? "That's his loss. We're trying to get wins."— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
A sentiment echo by other unnamed teammates, albeit sometimes less diplomatically.
One veteran Steeler told me players waited a day to criticize Bell to give him a chance to come in Wednesday but "he f---ed us."— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 5, 2018
One Steelers starter said what Le'Veon Bell is doing is "embarrassing." He said he doesn't want to sound old-fashioned, but thought you played the game as a team, not an individual.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 5, 2018
If a protracted holdout is on the cards, as insinuated by Bell’s agent on Wednesday, it can only be imagined what will have happened to the relationship between the absentee running back and his teammates by the time he finally arrives. Bell has already proved to be rather sensitive when it comes to criticism on social media and it is hard to believe he is not offended by these latest remarks.
As difficult as it might be for him to do, avoiding another ill-timed response of his own could be the best course of action, but diplomacy has never been his strong point. Maybe he can channel his angst into another rap instead, everyone is sure to really enjoy that.