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Kozora: Le’Veon Bell Wasn’t The Steelers Savior

“Hans…bubby! I’m your white knight.” 

Throughout this entire Le’Veon Bell saga, one that’s gone for what feels like forever, his decisions and explanations have always reminded me of Ellis from Die Hard, a film now approaching its 30th anniversary. Ellis: the man you love to hate. Obnoxious, foolish, someone with the highest opinion of himself. Even that line, “I’m your white knight” was improvised by Hart Bochner, the actor who played the role.

That’s what this whole…mess feels like. That is, likely, what it was. Improvised. Bell’s decision to skip Week One. Then Week Four. Then show up to Pittsburgh. Then no-show the Steelers’ facility.

I don’t know, obviously, if he planned on being the team’s white knight. If the run game struggled, if James Conner didn’t produce in the same way, that Bell could return by Week Ten, swoop in, healthy, energized, and win the city back over. Fans would fall in love again with his patience, his hands, his production. Truly, I believe when this whole thing began back in early September, Bell’s intention was to show up. Eventually.

Turns out, they could thrive without #26 on the field.

That, at least if I had to guess, was one of the reasons why Bell opted against showing up. The writing was on the wall. Conner has performed beautifully in his place, a player capable of replicating Bell’s performance in nearly every area. The offensive line loves him, the team, the city, have all embraced him for, in perception at least, everything Bell isn’t.

Bell never wanted to be the bad guy. And I never begrudged him for skipping out. It was his decision, as it should be, and if that’s the angle he wants to take, it’s well within his right. To this day, I realize this opinion will be as popular as “sandwiches shouldn’t have fries on them” around here, I don’t believe Bell is a bad guy. A misguided one? You bet. But bad? Nah.

The problem was always how he went about it. The lack of transparency, the deception his teammates felt, being hammered with weekly questions about him and never having enough information to provide an answer. He didn’t need to offer a tell-all to the fans. But that locker room? They deserved an explanation. Especially that offensive line.

The things he’s done in recent weeks felt out of place and frankly, a little desperate. And I’m not talking about his rap “career” or showing up on a jet ski in Florida. Those were always non-stories; Bell was free to do whatever he wanted. But tweeting upside down about how no one gets you? Showing up to Pittsburgh, playing pickup basketball, and still not reporting?

Again, his choice, spare me that lecture, but an appropriately bizarre end to an equally strange saga.

Even the thought that he was close with James Conner seemed to fall apart during Conner’s FOX interview before the Panthers’ game. Sitting down with Curt Menefee, he admitted the last time he heard from Bell was weeks ago, following his monster performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. Nothing else since. And no, him tweeting about how well Conner played isn’t communication. Or else consider me and Conner BFFs.

David DeCastro summed up how we all felt. Nobody cared anymore. Bell wasn’t part of the team and it was always likely 2018 was his last season with ties to the Steelers. That feeling was cemented by Conner’s terrific play.

So the writing was on the wall. From how the locker room responded to him upon realizing Bell wasn’t reporting for the regular season opener. To the heat from the fans, letting him know how they felt about his decision, and then the straight up apathy for Bell’s position: go home, show up, just make a decision and let’s all get on with it. Mercifully, that chapter closed yesterday at 4 PM, even if the entire saga isn’t quite over.

If the Steelers are smart, they’ll let him walk. Not drag this insanity out even longer. Debating about the value of a third franchise tag, which would probably be decided by an arbitrator, or the transition tag dance, essentially free agency with extra steps. It’s all pointless, a waste of time and money.

Once he hits free agency, hopefully sooner than later, there’s no question some team will pay him and pay him well. Will it be exactly what he wants? Impossible to say. As long as the sky is blue, teams will overspend. Then again, Bell’s demands are so high and with the pressure to cash in, make up for the $14.5 million he lost this year, who knows what he’d take. Whatever gets it, he’ll deserve it. I, at least, will be happy for him.

That’s where we stand. There is no grand Bell entrance. No game-winning touchdown to beat the Patriots, or Saints, or whoever the Steelers face in the playoffs. No swan song. And that’s ok.

Bell decided he didn’t need to be a Steeler.

The Steelers have proven they don’t need him.

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