Le’Veon Bell is one of the most explosive and talented offensive weapons in the entire NFL. He is an elite running back, and also manages to routinely catch short passes and turn them into huge gains. Despite what the Steelers want you to believe, they are a worse team without Bell on the field — no matter how well replacement James Conner plays.
Bell has been holding out, upset that the Steelers used the franchise tag on him (again) rather than offer him fair market value for a 26-year-old superstar running back in the form of a long term contract extension. Bell knows he’s one major injury away from losing tens of millions of dollars in future earnings, and isn’t willing to risk it. He skipped the entire preseason (just like he did in 2017), and refused to show up even as regular reason games started.
He is being fined his entire game check each week (about $850,000), but is staying healthy for free agency — something he probably considers worth it. However, if he doesn’t end his holdout by Week 10, his free agent status would be in jeopardy. Cue a recent report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Bell plans to end his holdout later this month.
According to “a source,” Fowler says Bell will report to the Steelers in “Week 7 or 8.” The team has a bye in Week 7.
“It sucks having to sit out football,” Bell said in a phone call to Fowler. “I want to play. I want to win games and the playoffs. But I’ve gotta take this stand. Knowing my worth and knowing I can tear a ligament or get surgery at any time, I knew I couldn’t play 16 games with 400 or more touches.”
The Steelers have been plenty happy about using Bell as their workhorse, giving him more touches than any offensive player in the last couple of seasons. And while it’s probably their best chance to win football games, they seem unconcerned about the wear and tear that such a high workload is putting on Bell’s body — likely because they planned to offload him as soon as he hit free agency anyway, meaning some other team can deal with paying a potentially regressing and injured running back. It’s smart business, but it’s also a real dick move.
Bell is using the only leverage he has — holding out — to fight back. The Steelers are 1-2-1 with Bell so far this season. Stay tuned for Week 8, where we’ll find out what the next chapter of Bell vs. the Steelers brings.