Here’s a headline I didn’t expect to write a month ago. Or a week ago. Or even like, 24 hours ago. But here we are, completely in the dark about Le’Veon Bell’s plans. So are his teammates. The Pittsburgh Steelers are, rightfully so, moving forward until he shows up.
What if he doesn’t?
To be upfront, the odds of this happening are admittedly low. Bell runs at least the statistical risk of the Steelers tagging again. Cap experts like Joel Corry, who Dave Bryan spoke to yesterday, believes those odds are low. It’s in Bell’s best interest to suck it up, report by Week 10, in order to make a clean break from this team once and for all. That’s why skipping 2018 is a bad idea.
I, along with most others, believe he will show up at some point this year. But, of course, we all thought he’d be here by now.
Even though I think those odds are low, it’s a possibility that has to be considered. We already know there’s a good chance he doesn’t report until around Week 10, as hinted by agent Adisa Bakari in an interview yesterday on Sirius Radio. Opting to skip several games to save his body, avoid wear and tear, and be as fresh as possible for when he hits the market after the season.
Clearly, his teammates were blindsided by the news. Everyone expected him to show up sometime this week. Maurkice Pouncey told reporters you could “count” on him appearing yesterday, though he admitted he hadn’t spoken to Bell himself. Once the news broke that Bell had other plans, the Steelers – mainly the offensive line – didn’t hold back. You’ve probably heard them all by now.
And they have every right to be mad. By far, this was Bell’s biggest mistake. It was entirely fair to defend him turning down the Steelers offer. Sitting out camp. Not showing up until the 11th hour. I know I did and more importantly, so did his teammates. They supported him.
But when Bell went back on what he and his agent have said, that everything would be the same, he would appear Week One, that he was excited for September 9th (the Steelers first game), the tide turned. Teammates went all in with harsh criticism, hitting even harder than they did for James Harrison. Words which are going to be hard to come back from, to patch up over a victory beer. And I imagine those who said what they said – Ramon Foster and Pouncey primarily – knew that.
You can bet Bell has already heard the criticism (in face, he has). And he’ll take it personally, which to be fair to Bell, is understandable, even if he created this whole mess in the first place.
That creates the question in the headline – will Bell show up at all? Teammates have already told him to stay home, don’t bother coming to Pittsburgh. Seems like an easy opportunity to take them up on that offer.
It’s important to clarify what sitting out the entire season means for Bell. If he doesn’t show up, at all, he will still be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. No, the year won’t accrue. But it doesn’t matter. He’s been in the league long enough to earn his unrestricted status. He needs to show up by Week 10 in order to be eligible to play this season, that report is true, but maybe he’s lost all interest in that, knowing the hostile locker room he’d be walking into if he showed his face again. Bridges weren’t just burned yesterday afternoon. They were nuked.
The Steelers could tag Bell again at the same figure as this year, $14.55 million. But why would they? He already wasn’t in their plans for 2019 or beyond. Tagging him again means repeating the same exact story so why tie up the cap space? Use it on someone who will be there, someone who will help the team. And do you think that locker room wants to see the Steelers continue this saga? Will the Steelers tell, say, Ramon Foster, “sorry man, we can’t pay you because of the money invested in #26?”
Bell’s already been painted as selfish, greedy, and not a team player. Nothing he does from here on out will change that. If you’re walking on ice, might as well dance.
Does that guarantee Bell will sit out entirely? No, of course not. I have no idea what Bell is going to do. I’m not even convinced Bell knows exactly what his plan is, especially with how ugly things got Wednesday. Make me put a number on this scenario playing out, him sitting out for good, and the figure would be low.
But he’s clearly comfortable missing out on a chunk of the season, leaving a hefty amount of cash at the table, and riding it out. All he’d have to do is keep that mentality for an extra couple of weeks.
At this point, with the way things have gone, nothing should surprise.