Before I continue this article, I’ll allow for five or six comments from readers about how “You guys need to stop talking about Le’Veon Bell missing OTAs.”
I’m guessing you probably said that without even reading this piece. But I’ll give you that latitude, considering the annual mini-controversy over (insert any player here from all the teams ever) missing OTAs (Organized Team Activities) is about as silly as the seriousness we now lend to those annual activities conducted with helmets and shorts but without pads.
The latest mini-controversy (at least in Pittsburgh—I’m sure, much like summer road construction, this is going on everywhere) revolves around the aforementioned Bell and his absence from last week’s OTAs session.
“I’m not worried about the chemistry, but I wish he’d be here just because he’s one of the pieces to our puzzle,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said last week in a quote courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Pro Football Talk. “I know he can’t participate because I don’t think he’s 100 percent healthy, but it would be nice to see him here just in terms of the chemistry and learning and being a part of the process. But obviously, it’s up to him.”
The key sentence in Roethlisberger’s quote is “But obviously, it’s up to him.”
It’s up to Bell. In other words, these Organized Team Activities are totally voluntary, and the only consequences of missing them are reading passive-aggressive quotes from teammates and totally aggressive quotes from fans.
And as PFT pointed out in its article last week, since Bell has yet to sign the franchise tender the team tagged him with earlier in the offseason, he can’t actually attend OTAs, unless he (I assume) signs a letter of protection.
Even if Bell did sign a letter of protection or came to OTAs with a new contract in-hand, he still wouldn’t be able to participate in team drills. As Roethlsiberger alluded to in his quote to reporters last week, Bell is still recovering from surgery to repair the injured groin that made him mostly useless in Pittsburgh’s 36-17 loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game on January 22.
But I guess Roethlisberger’s point was that having Bell around would promote a team-first environment and also allow him to bone-up on Todd Haley’s offensive system.
In Bell, we’re talking about a running back who has missed 13 of the last 32 regular season games due to either suspensions or a knee injury. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the best running back in the NFL and holding on to his status as the most important piece to the Steelers offensive puzzle.
In news that was much less provocative (sexy), at the same time he was skipping OTAs last week, Bell donated $750,000 to his old high school so it could install turf at its football stadium.
So what does that have to do with Bell missing OTAs? I mean, he could have just as easily donated this money through his agent or lawyer while standing around on the sidelines at OTAs and helping to build that team chemistry.
It doesn’t have to do with anything, other than to show you Bell may actually be turning into a mature man at the ripe old age of 25.
I know what you’re going to say. Yes, not showing up to OTAs may be a sign of a me-first attitude, but I’m guessing that kind of attitude would have prevented him from donating close to seven-figures to his old high school football team.
Making similar donations while at the same time not participating in OTAs helped define the career of the legendary Troy Polamalu during his 12 years in Pittsburgh.
So why is it unsettling news when Bell donates money but also skips OTAs?
If I had to guess, it’s probably because of those drug-related suspensions that led to five of those 13 absences since the start of the 2015 campaign.
It may also have to do with the fact that Bell has not signed his franchise tender.
If Bell still hasn’t signed his contract two months from now and skips the start of training camp, when, presumably, his surgically repaired groin would be 100 percent, well, that will be news.
As for right now, who cares?
Could it be a negotiation tactic?
Yes, but so what?
“Holding out” of OTAs as leverage for a new contract might make you angry, but it’s no more meaningful than growing a beard for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Nothing Bell does right now means anything.
There’s only one way to make me care about Le’Veon Bell missing OTAs: Make them mandatory.
Until then, wake me up at the end of July.
If Le’Veon Bell is actually holding out of training camp (instead of faux holding out of OTAs), then I might take notice.