Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers versatile All-Pro/Pro Bowl running back (perhaps the biggest headache for opposing defensive coordinators in the NFL these days), didn’t report to training camp on Thursday, and probably won’t for the majority of the time his teammates reside in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, as they prepare for a very important 2017 regular season.
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell, who would have been a free agent this spring, and it was then up to Bell to either sign the tender or reach a long-term deal with his bosses.
The deadline for the two sides to come to an agreement was July 17.
After that date came and went without a deal, Bell had no other option but to sign the tender and guarantee himself $12.1 million in 2017. He has yet to do so and, instead, has elected to remain out of camp.
Make no mistake, Bell will eventually sign his $12.1 million tag and, barring another injury or suspension, will be what he’s been since 2014 (when not injured or suspended, that is), and that’s the most important cog in the Steelers offense, a player capable of posting 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Obviously, the media has rightfully made a story out of this. Bell’s importance to the team, again, can’t be understated. But even your most hardened and cynical beat writer no doubt realizes Bell not being at training camp isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
As for the fans, social media being what it is in 2017, the reactions have ranged from the absurd (“He’s too worried about making rap music!”) to irrational and ridiculous (“They need to cut this selfish POS!”)
Maybe Bell is worried about making rap music, but to say that’s all he cares about is disingenuous, if you know how hard the man works each and every offseason to get himself into the best possible shape.
Bell was coming off a torn MCL that ended his 2015 season, but once he made his 2016 debut in Week 4 against the Chiefs last October, it was quite apparent he hadn’t lost a step.
Take a look at Bell’s highlights from the Steelers blow-out victory over Kansas City–you don’t bounce back from that kind of serious knee injury in such a fashion if you didn’t put in the work in the offseason.
Considering that Week 4 performance was Bell’s debut as a consequence for a three-game suspension to start the year, if you want to be angry at him for his off-the-field transgressions (let’s not forget his two-game suspension to start the 2015 campaign), I will give you that.
So, you combine the rap music and weed-induced suspensions with the training camp holdout, and that’s enough for you to want the team to cut him–a Pro Bowl running back and a generational talent?
Rod Woodson was arrested three separate times early in his career and remained a Steeler for 10 seasons.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault on two separate occasions and was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 campaign, and he’s matured into one of the model citizens of the Steelers locker room.
Why did the Steelers put up with such serious issues from two very high-profile players?
It’s because they were two very high-profile players, meaning their importance to their teams was immeasurable.
Bell is in that same category, and if the Steelers can get past multiple arrests and multiple sexual assault accusations, it’s safe to say they’ll get beyond a young player’s desire to smoke weed.
Bell isn’t going anywhere, other than Cleveland to take on the Browns in Week 1. Where he goes and what he does before that? It’s really nothing to be concerned about.
You might say, “Well, he’s not being a team player!” To that, I say, the NFL is a business, and Bell needs to do what he feels is right to maximize his earning potential.
I always find it funny how fans get so up in arms over the kind of money that professional athletes make–especially football players, who often must get round-the-clock treatment just to be ready to take the field each Sunday and also face a pretty grim future as it pertains to their long-term health–but don’t bat an eye when the top actors in the world demand eight figures per movie.
You might also say, “Well, what about the team chemistry?”
That’s a bit overrated, especially when you consider the five games Bell has missed due to suspension the past two seasons. When a player is suspended, he cannot practice or be around his team until he is reinstated.
Therefore, if chemistry or continuity was an issue, it would have shown up in 2015 and/or 2016.
Let’s be honest, how much do you think Bell, who had to have offseason surgery to repair a groin injury suffered in the playoffs, would have actually participated in training camp this weekend, alone, let alone the entire month of August?
And even if Bell does sign his tender and shows up before the first preseason game on August 11, how many carries do you think he’ll get?
If you answered “zero,” you would have a great chance of being correct, considering that’s how many he had in three of the team’s four preseason games a year ago.
If Bell is still a holdout once the regular season begins, I’ll join you in your anger.
For starters, he’d be throwing away all or part of $12.1 million in guaranteed money. Secondly, he really would be hurting the team at that point, since regular season games are really the only ones that count.
But for the time being, please, don’t get yourself in a grave mental state over the training camp absence of Le’Veon Bell.
I don’t care about that, and neither should you.