It certainly seemed as though, to a man, the Pittsburgh Steelers truly expected that Le’Veon Bell would show up on Wednesday and be a fully committed part of the team’s 2018 Super Bowl run. He appears to have other plans, and while a number of hindsight fans have claimed that they knew all along this would play out in this way, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that his teammates know Bell far better.
And Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ head coach, knows his players extremely well. So it was telling when he told reporters yesterday, when asked, that he is “surprised very little by what they do or say”. That comment was in reference to the remarks made by players such as Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and David DeCastro referring to Bell’s decision not to report while not being upfront with his teammates about that plan.
While he offered no judgement value, neither praise nor condemnation for his players’ choice to speak their minds on the topic, he did seem to make it clear that this is indeed the pulse of the locker room. Bell’s teammates are frustrated with his decisions he has made about how to handle his 2019 free agency status, which they feel has been disrespectful toward them both personally and professionally.
He reserved more pointed remarks for the running back’s agent, Adisa Bakari, who on Wednesday took to the radio waves as his client’s voice to the world. At one point during his interview, he said that Bell was concerned about the team overworking him deliberately as a one-year rental and that they wanted clarity about how he would be used before he chooses to report.
“I don’t communicate with agents on how I use players”, he said, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala. “I communicate with players”. The reporter added that Tomlin would not clarify if he has spoken to Bell about his expectations for the running back’s workload. He had over 400 touches in 15 games last season.
Finally, he was asked how or whether or not Bell’s absence was going to affect the team. He allowed that it could have an effect, but added, “whether it’s negative or positive, that’s up to the team”. As odd as it may seem, the voluntary absence of a teammate could serve as a rallying point.
As DeCastro also said yesterday, the team feels as though there is added pressure to prove themselves to the league and to the fans, that they can succeed without Bell. They believe they are being doubted, and are welcoming the challenge to prove the doubters wrong.
Let’s all remember that fences can be mended. DeCastro offered yesterday that there are “no hard feelings”, though everybody might not be quite there yet in the locker room. Multiple players were hesitant to say how Bell would be received when he returns, but there is time enough to let cooler heads prevail.