I Don’t Care About Le’Veon Bell’s Holdout, and Neither Should You

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?

Come on.

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. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

 

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Steelers sign Alejandro Villaneuva to 4-year deal

You can make that one training camp holdout for the Steelers as they began preparations for the 2017 regular season.

While star running back Le’Veon Bell has yet to sign his $12.1 million franchise tag and hasn’t reported to training camp, several outlets–but most reliably their official website–are reporting the Steelers signed starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to a new four-year contract-extension as players reported to camp on Thursday.

Villanueva, a decorated military veteran who served several tours in Afghanistan, played his college ball at Army, where he tried his hand at several positions–including left tackle, defensive end and tight end–before entering the NFL as an undrafted free-agent in 2014.

He signed with the Eagles, who wanted him to play defensive end.

After failing to make Philadelphia’s active roster, Villanueva made his way to the Steelers practice squad in 2014, and that’s where he remained for the rest of the year, while he added weight to his 6’9″ frame and learned the left tackle position under legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Villanueva made the Steelers active roster as a reserve offensive lineman in 2015 and got his big career break later in the year, when starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a Week 6 victory over the Cardinals at Heinz Field.

Villanueva started the final 10 games of the 2015 season and all 16 in 2016.

As an exclusive-rights free-agent, Villanueva, 28, had no real leverage but to show up and play in 2017. But as training camp approached, there were rumors that Villanueva would hold out in pursuit of a new deal.

However, with Thursday being the official date for players to report to St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pa., the new agreement for Villanueva means he will get to continue to improve on his craft.

As per usual, the Steelers didn’t disclose any financial terms for Villanueva’s deal, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, citing an unnamed source, is reporting the contract is worth $24 million. 

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Sammie Coates to Miss Start of Training Camp after Knee Surgery

Steelers third-year receiver Sammie Coates will have to wait a bit longer to get the bitter taste of the 2016 season out of his mouth.

According to an unnamed source cited by ESPN, Coates will miss the start of training camp after having surgery to repair a knee injury he sustained while working out in the offseason.

Over  the first five weeks of 2016, Coates looked more than capable of filling the very large shoes of receiver Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for the entire season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

But after accumulating 421 receiving yards over the first five games–including several deep receptions–Coates suffered a fractured finger and hand laceration in a Week 5 victory over the Jets at Heinz Field.

Soon, a groin injury reared its ugly head.

The result:

Coates was a virtual non-factor the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs, as he ended the year with just 435 yards on 21 receptions.

As per Jeremy Fowler, a Steelers beat writer who covers the team for ESPN.com, Coates could start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but may be back as soon as the middle of August.

While it doesn’t sound like a major injury, it hasto be a frustrating setback for Coates, who, in addition to having to compete with Antonio Brown and the newly-reinstated Bryant for passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, will also have to contend with young slot receiver Eli Rogers and second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster for playing time. 

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Why the NFL’s Impending James Harrison Casino Arm Wrestling Fine is Fine

In case you didn’t hear the news, Steelers monstrously popular linebacker James Harrison–along with many other professional football players– is facing a fine by the NFL for participating in a charity arm wrestling contest at a casino in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. 

Since the 2010 season, when James Harrison was hit with over $100,000 in fines for multiple late hits and shots to opponents’ heads, the “James Harrison was just fined for this (insert something silly–like Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem–here)” jokes have been all over the Internet.

  • When you first heard the news surrounding James Harrison’s latest fine, you may have had to check several online sources to see if this was another funny joke at No. 92’s expense.

Nope.

Not only is James Harrison casino arm wrestling escapade likely to earn him another NFL fine, but, like many in the past (anyone ever actually consider he may have been in the wrong with many of those hits?), he probably deserves to.

According to NFL.com, the league has a standing policy against players participating in promotional events at casinos, and that is exactly what James Harrison and many of his colleagues–as many as 30, all told–did when they agreed to arm wrestle in the name of charity.

Obviously, it’s pretty easy to understand why the league doesn’t allow its players to engage in promotional events at casinos–and that’s because of the often shady reputation of bookies and gamblers, and the fear that they might get their claws in one or several players, causing them to throw or otherwise alter the outcome of a football game.

James Harrison, James Harrison casino arm wrestling

James Harrison at AFC Championship game in New England. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Of course, in today’s day and age, it’s a little harder to picture a professional football player–the minimum annual salary in the  is over $400,000–being corrupted by gambling influences.

But that’s neither here nor there, and in the case of James Harrison and other NFL stars involved in the arm wrestling competition, there (a Las Vegas casino) was some place they weren’t supposed to be.

Sure you can argue, as MMQB’s Andrew Brandt has that the NFL’s policies about gambling are more than a little hypocritical – and this was even the case before the NFL decided to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas. That’s true, just as its true that there’s perhaps some hypocrisy on its policies about substance abuse and pain killers.

  • But the rules are nonetheless clear.

And the James Harrison casino arm wrestling escapade is a violation of that rule, just as Martavis Bryant’s continued use of marijuana is a violation of his of the rules.

So be it. Add arm wrestling to your arsenal of silly “James Harrison was just fined for this” jokes, but just know that, in this case, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

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Report card for Steelers divisional round victory over Chiefs

Quarterback 

Sunday night wasn’t one of the greatest performances for Ben Roethlisberger (he completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). However, he could have had a better fate, had Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers been able to hold on to touchdown passes. Of course, things could have been better for Roethlisberger, had he not checked out of a running play down at the goal line and had his subsequent pass deflected in the air and intercepted by Eric Berry in the second quarter. It wasn’t a suburb performance for No. 7, but he did find a way to make a spectacular play on the third and three pass to Brown late in the game that sealed the deal. Grade: C

Running Backs 

What more can be said about Le’Veon Bell? After breaking the franchise single-game postseason rushing mark a week earlier against the Dolphins in the wild card game, Bell broke his own record against the Chiefs, by rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. If he isn’t the most explosive and dangerous offensive weapon in football right now, I don’t know who is. Grade: A+

Wide Receivers 

Aside from Brown’s 108 yards on six catches, there wasn’t much in the way of contributions from the wide-outs on Sunday. While Rogers netted 27 yards on five catches, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers combined for 10 yards on two catches. Still, though, it’s hard to expect much from secondary receivers with little pedigree and even less experience. Grade: B-

Tight Ends 

The Steelers may not have had the still recovering from a concussion Ladarius Green, but Jesse James sure did provide some big catches and yards. All-told, he had five catches for 83 yards–including one for 26. Grade: B

Offensive Line

When your star running back rushes for 170 yards, and your franchise quarterback only gets sacks one time in 31 pass-attempts, it’s hard to criticize the offensive line. I won’t criticize the line, but a suburb performance by the unit could have been even better, had the offense been able to trade a couple of field goals for touchdowns. Grade: A

Defensive Line 

It was mostly a stellar performance for the defense, including just 61 yards against the run. It wasn’t a stand-out night for anyone on the line, but it was workman-like. Grade: B

Linebackers

James Harrison led the team in tackles with six and also notched the only sack of Alex Smith on the night. Harrison also came through by getting himself held by Eric Fisher during the two-point conversion try that could have tied the game late in the game. Ryan Shazier had five sacks and an interception, while Bud Dupree had four and caused the interception by Shazier, but pressuring Smith and hitting him just as he threw the pass. Grade B+

Secondary 

The Chiefs had just 172 passing yards on the night. Not much more can be said about that. Grade: A

Special teams 

The Steelers limited dangerous return man Tyreek Hill to 72 yards on four kickoffs. Also, Chris Boswell netted all the points for the  team by kicking a postseason record six field goals. Grade: A

Coaching

The Steelers were the better team in all three phases of the game, out-gaining the Chiefs 389 yards to 22y and stifling Kansas City’s return game. Again, a few touchdowns would have been perfection, but when you come out of Kansas City’s Arrowhead with a playoff win, that’s saying a lot. Grade: B+

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