The Pittsburgh Steelers, like all NFL teams, are preparing for their NFL season opener, but the Steelers are doing so with one very big component of their offense missing.
After missing all of training camp, Le’Veon Bell is continuing his holdout as he hopes for a long-term deal. Missing camp isn’t egregious, but the situation got serious Monday, when he did not show up for the start of the workweek, and his agent later hinted that the holdout may not end anytime soon.
He was also absent for meetings when the team assembled 9 a.m. Wednesday. Bell’s absence is now openly frustrating teammates as the clock ticks down to the season opener, especially since Bell is still slated to make $14.5 million this year, the most of any running back.
“What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess, so we’ll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this,” offensive lineman Ramon Foster told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s making seven times what I make, twice as much as Al [Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva] is making, and we’re the guys who do it for him.”
The current impasse between the Steelers and Bell began a year ago, when he played under a one-year franchise tag, and the team sought to resolve it by placing the tag on him again this season. So far, though, neither side is budging as Bell has yet to sign his CBA-delineated contract tender.
He now appears unlikely to play Sunday in Cleveland.
For Bell, the decision is strictly business, even if he is gambling that James Conner won’t step in and have a great game in his absence. As Ross Tucker, the former player who works for SiriusXM radio and the Athletic, points out, he would be smart to “show up Friday or Saturday so he still gets his $855,000.” That way Bell would miss a game’s worth of hits yet still collect his Week 1 paycheck.
Adisa Bakari, Bell’s agent, appeared on SiriusXM radio on Wednesday and said much the same thing:
In a later appearance on ESPN’s “NFL Live,” Bakari said that Bell is “going to do the things necessary to protect his value long-term.”
Bakari noted, cryptically on Sirius, that Bell didn’t report on Labor Day weekend, as he did last year, because “we had something exceptional to occur.”
Like in 2017, when he reported to the team just nine days before the season opener, Bell didn’t show up for training camp and didn’t need to because he isn’t under contract with the Steelers. Many people were not happy with that decision but at least understood it and respected where Bell was coming from. He wanted a contract extension and instead got a franchise tag (and the one-year deal that comes with it) for the second year in a row.
Bell apparently went a bridge too far Monday when he missed the first regular season practice. The Steelers are preparing for their opener against the Browns, and so now these practices apparently matter a lot more than training camp.
Many fans took to social media to bash Bell, or to demand the Steelers trade him or even suspend him (even though that’s not an option for a variety of reasons). The Steelers issued a statement Monday expressing their disappointment with Bell and said they will continue to prepare for the Browns as if he won’t be available. On Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin simply answered “yes” when asked if he is more comfortable slotting Conner into the starting lineup this year compared with last year, when Conner was a rookie.
Early Wednesday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called Bell “one of the best in the business” but added that “one player doesn’t make or break” the team and that the team’s offensive linemen “are more important than any one skill position, myself included.” Roethlisberger did note that while he is used to Bell’s absence, it “might be bothering” some of the team’s other players. That became apparent later in the day.
In the end, the most likely scenario for Bell hasn’t changed: At some point before November, the latest he can sign yet still accrue a year of NFL service, he will sign his tender, play on his one-year deal this season and then enter free agency. Given how the past few offseason negotiations have gone with Pittsburgh, Bell’s days there will likely end next spring.
At that point, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reports, some NFL front office personnel believe Bell will end up playing for the New England Patriots.
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