Yes, I wrote an article yesterday stating the case for putting the option of rescinding the franchise tender for running back Le’Veon Bell on the table. No, I never advocated for actually doing it, nor did I suggest that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to do it. The odds are that he will report sometime this season, perhaps after the first eight games.
When he does, however, there are going to be some fences to mend, and that will be especially so as it concerns his offensive linemen, at least three of whom sounded off yesterday after he failed to report to the team, feeling that they were misled about his intentions.
Several players were asked about how Bell will be received once he returns, and they did not have clear answers. Ramon Foster, according to Mike Prisuta, said, “I don’t know how well that’s gonna go”, adding, “we’re here breaking our back”. That could refer both to the work the rest of the team is putting in now and to the fact that the line is responsible for blocking for him in the run game.
Calling the running back’s decision not to report both “disheartening” and “selfish”, Foster questioned who would choose not to play football for $14 million before adding, “whatever his things is, so be it, but we’re gonna roll” without him.
While team captain Ben Roethlisberger denied that Bell’s decision was a problem specifically for himself, he did allow that it “might be bothering” other people on the team, as Aditi Kinkhabwala shared. Even David DeCastro said that he left the team with their collective foot in their mouth and suggested he might as well “just sit out the whole year then”, adding that “it’ll be a little awkward” when he comes back. Maurkice Pouncey, the most vocal, said that they’ll have to “figure it out when he comes” how he will be accepted back in the locker room.
Those were just quotes from the offensive linemen, and the ones who were willing to go on record. It should go without saying that the animosity extends much further than what you’re going to get from players speaking to the media. There is frustration both over Bell not being here and how he chose to handle his absence.
There is going to be a lot of work to do to piece things back together in terms of the relationship between Bell and the rest of the team. But it’s not an impossible task. Maybe some residual issues will remain, but things can be put aside for the greater good.
That will require Bell coming in, whenever he does come in, ready and willing to give everything he has to the team, and to his teammates, in the quest for a championship. Players like Foster especially, who have likely taken less to stay in Pittsburgh (he has never formally hit the open market) and are nearing the end of their careers, are especially “tired of the antics”.
The ‘antics’ have to end when he reports for business. The focus has to immediately become winning the Super Bowl. That’s the only way to get past this from a locker room standpoint. As Pouncey said, business is business, “but at some point, you need to say, ‘I just want to play football’”.