The Pittsburgh Steelers have been through so much turmoil the past few months, fans had forgotten about Le’Veon Bell. You know, the player fans openly despised as he elected to sit out the 2018 season rather than re-join his teammates to play under the franchise tag.
Remember the comments made by his then offensive line? Remember the team raiding his locker?
Yeah, it was bad. Even though Antonio Brown has dominated the headlines over the last month or so, it was Bell was the original Public Enemy No. 1 for the black-and-gold faithful. As a member of the New York Jets now, Bell was able to sit back and reflect on the year that was, his decision to sit out and more.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN got the scoop, and delivered a tremendous article, but the one head-scratching aspect of the entire situation was how Bell and his agent didn’t completely understand how the franchise tag worked under the NFL and NFLPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Bell spoke about how he, among others in the media, believed he would have to report by Week 10 to accrue a season and hit free agency in 2019. But due to him being a vested veteran that wasn’t the case.
How did Bell find out? No, not from his agent, but from social media. Fowler writes:
Bell learned about this on social media shortly before the bye, then consulted his agent, Adisa Bakari. That changed his plan to report, and he couldn’t tell anybody because that would reveal too much about his future plans. In Week 10, The Athletic reported that Bell gleaned “new information” in the process that kept him away.
”That was the biggest mix-up the whole time,” Bell said. “I thought I had to sit out until Week 10 or else they can tag me again. Around before the bye week, that’s when I found out I didn’t have to play.”
Before Bell realized this, he was ready to go back to the team. He had flown back to Pittsburgh, was seen playing pickup basketball at a local gym, and was ready to re-join his teammates.
Until he didn’t.
“I was so close to doing it,” he said. “At the same time, I was so torn. Do I go through that? Will they embrace me or will they not? I eventually decided I sat out 10 games, I can sit six more. At the time, the team was malfunctioning, having problems, a lot of blame on me. I didn’t want to come back and not feel welcome.”
“If I went out there for the last six games and got hurt, I would have felt sick,” he said.
The decision to sit out was a calculated one, and although many are looking at Bell’s new contract with the Jets and wondering why he didn’t just accept one of the two offers the Steelers had offered him, it was because of the guarantees within the deal which is what he longed for.
“The [average per year] was fine. The three-year cash flow is fine. But you’ve got to give me some middle ground,” Bell said. “[The Steelers] tried to give me no leeway on that, take it or leave it ... At the end of the day, I wanted to go where it would make me happy and have the guaranteed money, no matter what happens to me. I’ve seen what happened to [Steelers linebacker] Ryan Shazier [who might never play again after missing most of the past two seasons with a spinal injury], and I’ve seen that with my own eyes. I have to protect myself. The owners are protecting themselves, I have to do the same thing. Any other team and it would have been entirely fine. But the way [the Steelers] structure it and the way I am, I simply can’t rock with it. The way the Rams did it [with Todd Gurley’s contract] was perfect, Cardinals with David Johnson, Zeke [Elliott] will probably kill.”
Whether it was guaranteed money, years in the contract or anything else, Bell will look back on his time in Pittsburgh, the team who drafted him in the second round out of Michigan State, fondly.
“I love the city of Pittsburgh,” Bell said. “People were mad at me, which is understandable, the feeling that I’m not on the field with you. But everybody is entitled to how they feel. I don’t have any bitterness toward anybody. At the same time, I wish everybody the best over there. It just didn’t work.”
The sting of Bell’s absence wasn’t felt much in 2018 due to the emergence of James Conner, and to an extent Jaylen Samuels, within the team’s offense. While Bell was sitting on the couch, Conner was putting a product on the field making fans wonder, “Le’Veon who?”
Bell now continues his NFL life with the New York Jets, and the Steelers will move on with Conner and Samuels, but you will always wonder what could have been between Bell and the Steelers, had the two sides been able to come to terms on a new deal.