Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said the release of LeGarrette Blount a day after he left the field during a game was "a blessing in disguise," in the context of whether Blount may have been a problem within the locker room.
If that is a possibility, it's only fair to wonder what may have been had the Steelers elected to keep his departure an internal matter, and worked to get him the ball a little bit more often after that.
Beaver County Times guest columnist and 105.9 The X radio host Mark Madden wrote an interesting piece on the topic, centering on the what-might-have-been angle. Clearly, recent events have made this a storyline that's impossible to ignore. The question in November was the repercussions of the move should Bell be injured. Bell was injured in late December, and the Steelers were barely off the field from their division championship win over Cincinnati before signing veteran Ben Tate, as many have put it, as an insurance policy.
Steelers ring Bell for 204 yards vs. Titans.
It's perhaps ironic the Steelers signed a player who reportedly was disgruntled with his playing time in Cleveland to the point they released him. It's also perhaps indicative of how decisions being made are more affected by the right-now than a broad-reaching philosophy. Tate's good enough to sign after two releases (Minnesota cut him as well, although that could be seen simply as a cost-savings move, considering none of his contract was guaranteed and Minnesota was out of the playoff race heading into Week 17), Blount is shown the door after he showed the team his backside in Tennessee.
To Madden's point, the Steelers could have given Blount the ball a bit more. Not a lot more, a bit more. Perhaps they didn't quite see the problem brewing, as BTSC columnist John Phillips recorded Blount saying back in October. Maybe it didn't matter, he was to accept his role, regardless of what he may have been told.
Maybe both sides were justified in their reactions to the situation, although walking off the field is never acceptable.
We won't know the specifics behind the deal Blount signed with the Steelers, or what exactly the internal reaction was behind the arrest of Bell and Blount together in August for DUI (Bell) and marijuana possession (Bell and Blount). Blount may have been upset over being told he'd see the ball more than he was. I saw the two of them being talented runners, and while the team would give Bell the bulk of the carries, my prediction for the pair was more of what we saw in Week 3 against Carolina - Bell had 21 carries and Blount had 10, both going over 100 yards - than Tennessee, where Bell had 33 carries to Blount's zero.
Bell was hot that game, and it's understandable why the team wanted to stick with him. He's the best running back in the league. None of it gives Blount justification to leave his team, and amid rumors he planned his way out of Pittsburgh, the facts speak loudly enough here. Bell had been getting all the carries, not just the bulk, and it's tough to argue, to a man, Blount deserved more.
But for the sake of internal harmony, and getting an insurance policy before the flood arrived, perhaps another few carries would have helped. That's also operating under the assumption the Steelers really would be better off with Blount now than anyone else. That's also a fair point, one that shouldn't be ignored. Blount has 60 carries for 287 yards and four touchdowns for the Patriots in five games. He's had as many as 20 carries and as few as eight.
What we know is the Steelers had to sign Tate, Blount is having some success for the top-seeded Patriots, and a postseason meeting between the two wouldn't happen until the AFC Championship game. Even in a head-to-head battle, nothing will be determined as far as what happened after Week 11 between the Steelers and Blount.
The Steelers will most likely both ensure they aren't stuck in a similar spot next year and insure their investment in Bell in a malleable player who's willing to accept the fact Bell will get all the carries.