Le’Veon Bell, to quote Don Rickles whenever he roasted Dean Martin and/or Frank Sinatra: “It’s over. The voice is gone.”
Of course, I’m not referring to your voice, Le’Veon. That’s still in prime condition. No, seriously, I’ve heard your rap music: that’ll get picked up! Anyway, I’m referring to your legs, Le’Veon. They’re shot.
In fact, there’s strong evidence to suggest they were worn out as far back as 2017 when you toted the rock 60 more times than you did the year before and averaged nearly a yard less per carry. Your longest run that year was 27 yards.
Don’t get me wrong, 2017, your last year as a running back with the Steelers, was still pretty darn good. You did what you had often done since the moment you became Pittsburgh’s top offensive weapon: you gained nearly 2,000 total yards from scrimmage (1,946, to be exact). The only problem was—if I may say the same thing a different way—it took you a lot longer to accrue those yards.
Heck, from 2014-2016, you were supernatural. You were the man. You were what was causing the Steelers' offense to shine. You were the most potent of all the Killer B’s.
I’ll always be grateful for how you lifted up a struggling team that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons and carried it to the 2014 AFC North crown on the strength of 2,215 yards from scrimmage. It was obvious how valuable you were to the team when you were lost on the eve of the postseason, and Pittsburgh had no way to make up for your absence.
You essentially did the same thing two seasons later when the Steelers, a team that was depleted at receiver and had just lost four games in a row, decided to hop on your back and ride you all the way to the AFC title game. You WERE the Steelers offense down the stretch of the 2016 regular season and into the playoffs, where you set and then broke the franchise record for single-game rushing yards in back-to-back victories over the Dolphins and Chiefs.
But I believe that grind broke your back, Le’Veon. Or should I say your groin? That’s right, you suffered a serious groin injury during that historic stretch and were no good for the AFC title game against the Patriots.
During that offseason, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was cryptically contemplating retirement, you decided to have surgery to fix that groin issue. I had no problem with that. I also didn’t have a problem with you electing to hold off on signing the franchise tag the team had placed on you. I also didn’t have an issue with you holding out of training camp. You were in your physical prime (or so it appeared). At the very least, you were coming into your prime free-agent years; you should have been able to go out and get paid by signing a contract that included a ton of guaranteed money. In a perfect world, it may have happened for you, Le’Veon.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
After a 2017 season that ended in the most disappointing way imaginable, you took it one step further in 2018. The Steelers again placed the franchise tag on you. Not only did you once again decide not to sign it right away, you decided not to sign it at all. Not only did you once again skip out on training camp, but you also skipped out on the entire season.
Was I angry? Not angry so much as disappointed. I think you could have made a difference for a Steelers’ team that just barely missed the playoffs after blowing a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North.
Then again, maybe you couldn’t have made a difference. You see, I believe you knew that you weren’t the same player you had been and the 2017 campaign was your evidence. Come on, Le’Veon, nobody knows their own body better than a finely-tuned professional athlete. You had to be aware of your wear and tear. Maybe that’s why you were suddenly concerned about getting too many touches after building your All-Pro career on that basic concept—you were a workhorse.
I’m now glad that you turned down the Steelers' rather lucrative offer(s) that didn’t include as much guaranteed money as you wanted. It actually benefited Pittsburgh. This doesn’t mean I resented the fact that you were still trying to get yours even though you probably knew the tread on the tires was worn beyond repair. After all, the NFL is a rough business, and these guys will chew you up and spit you out without losing a second of sleep. As a running back, they get your best years at a cheap price and often decide to move on when it's time for you to get rewarded with a big contract.
It’s not fair.
Oh well, at least the Jets gave you a satisfactory deal. Oh, I don’t want to quibble over whether Pittsburgh’s contract(s) would have been more valuable in the long run. Again, the Steelers were probably better off in the end that you decided to shun their offer(s). But there’s no doubt you were basically a shell of your former self by 2019, when you gained roughly 1,200 yards from scrimmage, with your longest run being a measly 19 yards.
The 2020 campaign, a season that saw you get cut by the Jets and then sign with the Super Bowl-bound Chiefs, was more damning evidence against you and your current abilities, Le’Veon. You posted 466 total yards from scrimmage.
Running backs with something left in the tank don’t putter along for three or four seasons.
Face it, Le’Veon, it’s over. You need to realize that. You’ve made the news again and for all the wrong reasons. You took to Twitter over the weekend to say you’d retire first before ever playing for Chiefs coach Andy Reid again.
You hinted at why you now have such disdain for the man when you went on to say, “I said what I said & I don’t regret at all what I said. For those who have a PERSONAL PROBLEM with me because of what I SAID, that’s fine. you have your right! just understand I ALSO have MY RIGHT for how I feel about MY PERSONAL problem with dude because of what HE SAID to me.”
I don’t know exactly what Reid said to you, Le’Veon, but it was probably along the lines of “You stink.”
Honestly, there may be nothing sadder than a professional athlete who doesn’t realize that it’s over. I don’t think Reid is going to lose any sleep over your declaration.
I also don’t think anyone’s going to be blowing up your phone to sign you. And even if someone does sign you, buyer beware.
Washed-up running backs are like worn-out shocks and struts. They don’t suddenly get better with rest.
Look, Le’Veon, you had your day and one hell of a career while you were at the height of your powers. It’s time to hang up those cleats. Get out while you still have a shred of dignity left.
Unlike Martin or Sinatra, nobody is going to pay to see an old running back try to belt out one last hit.