By all indications, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had every intention of making running back Le’Veon Bell a long-term piece of their puzzle over the course of the previous two offseasons. They worked on long-term contracts in February and March until they were forced to place the franchise tag on him each year in an effort to continue negotiations.
In 2017, after the deadline for a deal passed, Bell chose to skip the offseason and only reported to the team six days prior to the start of the regular season. He publicly said early in the process that his plan would be the same in 2018 if the same thing were to happen.
At that point, both parties believed, as far as we can determine, that that is how they anticipated the situation would unfold once again if it played out in the same manner as before. But things changed this time around, and it’s hard to say which specific factors played into that. New contracts being signed, by both running backs and other positions, likely affected what seemed to be an evolving thought process for Bell.
Said Art Rooney II earlier today regarding the reality of Bell choosing not to report and whether or not the team anticipated that, he said, “how often does that happen in the history of the National Football League? To sit there and say you should’ve known? I don’t know. I didn’t expect it so I am guilty of not expecting that to happen”.
Personally, I think there has been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking on this issue. While many believed that they should not have tagged Bell for the second time in the first place—some didn’t want him tagged the first time—I suspect that many of those same people also believed that he would eventually show up as he did the year before.
It was only after he failed to report when he was expected that people really began with the “I told you so” self-congratulatory remarks. That doesn’t apply to everybody, but it certainly accounts for a lot of the people who have in hindsight made the argument that the organization misread the situation.
I believe the truth is that Bell didn’t ever have a clear idea of what he was going to do. Remember, he wound up back in Pittsburgh just before the deadline that he could report, and then we got reports about his agent ‘learning’ something that made him change his mind.
I think the Steelers made a reasonable assumption when they tagged Bell that he would report—after all, he did the year before—and I think the level of criticism they have received in hindsight has been excessive.
One can argue that Bell shouldn’t have been tagged in the first place, and that’s a very valid argument. But I think a lot of people trying to say that they knew Bell wouldn’t report this year are being disingenuous. The whole situation came pretty close to uncharted waters. There were no obvious predictions about how it would unfold.