It is fair to assume that when the Pittsburgh Steelers placed the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell this year, they did so believing that, should they fail to reach a deal, he would still report on-time for the regular season opener as he did the year before.
Had they known otherwise, they would have made bolder moves in the offseason beyond re-signing Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint and using a fifth-round draft pick on Jaylen Samuels, who did not see a lot of traditional running back work at NC State.
It is also fair to assume that, halfway through the season, the Steelers didn’t know that second-year running back James Conner would be this good as a complete player. Not only is he excelling on the ground, he is also carrying out every assignment asked of a running back, where most teams now utilize a platoon at the position.
The team valued Bell so much because they saw in him a rare player for the position that was capable of doing everything, and we saw that abundantly in the workload that they have given him over the years, not even in terms of touches per game, but simply in his snap percentage when healthy.
Now they’ve found another running back who can do that as well, plain and simple. If Bell is really leaving Miami for Pittsburgh, then he is going to find a team that has a different situation at his position than when he was last in the city.
Bottom line, adding Bell to this 53-man roster is merely a luxury. They don’t need a workhorse running back. They don’t need a third-down back. They don’t need a pass-catching back. They don’t need a pass-protecting back, or a short-yardage back, or even a change-of-pace back. They have done so without all of these things so far this year.
You know what the Steelers’ change of pace has been this year? Ryan Switzer. The Steelers have used the 01 personnel package for 45 snaps this year as a way to better Conner some snaps on the sideline, and that included eight snaps on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. That was in addition to the five snaps that Samuels saw.
Yes, Conner had to play 67 snaps in the game, and perhaps it would be ideal if they can bring in another running back that they would be comfortable getting two to four drives per game, which is not exactly the case for Samuels or Ridley, the latter of whom has lost favor after a fumble two games ago.
But, again, this is a team that doesn’t need Le’Veon Bell. That’s not to say by any means that they can’t make use of him or that, from a personnel and production standpoint, it wouldn’t be nice to have him. But that is wishlisting. It’s luxury. And it will cost them $855K a week. And in the meantime, somebody will have to lose their job.