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Le'Veon Bell's suspension could reach four games

It appears likely the Steelers' superstar running back will be shelved for the first two games, but a wrinkle in league protocol might see him banished for a quarter of the season.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Le'Veon Bell's looming suspension stemming from an August 2014 arrest remains to be the proverbial elephant in the room during the Steelers offseason.  Although nothing is set in stone, most expect the 23-year old All-Pro to miss Pittsburgh's first two games of the season, a move the team seems ready to brace itself for.

A seemingly benign clause in the league's player code of conduct, however, could potentially extend the length of Bell's suspension.  While the young running back was formally charged with a DUI, an infraction warranting a two game suspension, the possession of marijuana complicates the issue, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. Since alcohol wasn't a factor, the two game suspension that's been assumed could be pushed to a maximum of four games since Bell's DUI was the result of a different substance of abuse.

In truth, the league does have some wiggle room when determining the appropriate sentencing, because the language of the rule called for "a maximum" four-game ban, meaning Bell could be hit with a four, three or two game ban, or the league could decide against punishment altogether.  While the latter option seems unlikely at this point, Bell is one of the first big-name players who will be sentenced under the new guidelines, and the league could decide to set either a harsh or lenient precedent.  While Bell is a first-time offender, the league is free to observe the rule however subjectively they feel, meaning guessing at a punishment in numerical terms is a difficult proposition.

The Steelers are aware of their quandary and will prepare for life without Le'Veon Bell, but the difference between a two and four game suspension could potentially make or break the Steelers' 2015 season.