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Having a front row seat as the Le’Veon Bell ‘Brand’ devolves

By his own actions, No. 26 is compromising his future in the NFL.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

I have belabored in my short tenure here at BTSC the point that there's something special about the relationship between the Steelers' players, and the fans. There's a feeling that goes well beyond enjoying successful seasons, an unity of identity. I have also conceded that football is a business -- on both sides of the negotiating table. I don’t blame management when they had to let Troy go. I don’t blame Joey Porter for taking his talents to South Beach when James Harrison was in his rearview mirror.

The trick is to try to keep the business side in the shadows, and the winning, of both the games and the hearts of fans, in the limelight. And that too needs to be recognized by both labor and management.

Enter Le'Veon Bell. Or not. Here is a player that for many of us was a stretch, a reach. I mean, who picks a running back in the second round when running backs depreciate faster than the shiny new Cadillac you just drove off the lot? Turned out we were wrong, and that he's a prodigious talent. That and his youth helped us look past his folly in getting baked with LaGarrette Blount. We were ready, even eager, to welcome him into the family. When he waited to sign his franchise tag offer last pre-season we grumbled a bit about his slow start and drop in YPC, but we went 13-3. And surely, we reasoned, he would learn his lesson.

It seems he hasn’t. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t begrudge these men the money they make. I agree with Bell that he needs to maximize his earning potential while he can. But there is more to doing that than strictly playing hardball, like, you know, playing football. Earning potential can and does last beyond a player’s on-field career. Goodwill, when the game passes you by, you can also take to the bank.

Bell, however, isn't only squandering future earnings but he's losing money right now. First, with each passing day it looks more and more like he may be willing to pass up game checks. Second, the more petulant and me-first he shows himself to be, the less he will command in the open market in 2019. Bidders will bow out, wanting team players and wanting to avoid distractions. Sure, some team desperate enough probably will give him the keys to the vault. But there will be fewer of them laboring to do so. (And whoever does so will likely not be a competitive team.)

I’m afraid Bell is creating a legacy he may regret. He will likely end up remembered more as a cautionary tale than as a legendary player when he could be the next Jerome Bettis, the next Franco Harris. But the path he seems to be on will make him the next Ricky Williams.

It’s not what I want. It’s not what anybody wants, except perhaps Bell and his agent. I want him on the team, in the game, in the end zone, part of the family. But money does strange things.