It was right around the time of the Denver Broncos game that we just talked about that the deadline for running back Le’Veon Bell to report that would allow him to participate in the 2018 season in any capacity had passed. Though he was spotted around that time in Pittsburgh, he never did show up, and it’s still not entirely clear why.
There was the report that Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, had ‘discovered’ language in the CBA that would make it more advantageous for his client not to report, after he had seemingly been about to do so. Even Art Rooney II publicly acknowledged that they were aware he was in Pittsburgh.
But then he wasn’t, and then the Shoe Purge That Wasn’t occurred, and the Pittsburgh Steelers started losing games. No, there’s no connection between the two, and it most certainly doesn’t have anything to do with karma, but the fact that it was at this point in the season in which the team learned for sure that they would not be receiving the services of an All-Pro talent is worth discussing.
By this point in the season, Bell’s backup, second-year James Conner, had already been toting the ball and toting it well, even through some hiccups in the early parts of the season. Entering the Denver game, he wasn’t far removed from a on a four-game 100-rushing-yard streak, and he had scored seven touchdowns—six rushing and one receiving—in that span.
There were even reports that the Steelers were not just fielding but making phone calls about the possibility of moving Bell via trade in the event that he chose to report. Conner had been that good that Bell was an afterthought, something that was virtually unthinkable heading into the season.
Even following a 135-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns, the dominant conversation about the young back was the fact that he fumbled—admittedly a very costly fumble—and his efficiency slowed as the game went on. And that the Steelers would have won the game if Bell were there.
But Bell tolled for no one in 2018, a decision that he was very much within his rights to make, of course, but he certainly could have handled it much better. The manner in which he conducted himself throughout the process ended up alienating himself from many of his soon-to-be former teammates, which prompted them to lash out in ways that were arguably against the unwritten rules of locker room etiquette.
From 2013 to 2017, Bell rushed for 5336 yards on 1229 carries in 62 games. He caught 312 passes for another 2660 yards, scoring 35 rushing touchdowns and seven more as a receiver. He averaged 129 yards from scrimmage per game, the most in NFL history.
And one could argue that the offense scarcely missed a beat without him. Now that’s not to say that they wouldn’t have been a better team with him, but I would hardly blame Bell’s absence for the team not making the postseason.