In spite of the reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers are considering placing the transition tag on running back Le’Veon Bell, there doesn’t appear to be any real intention for the team to retain him in 2019, as those reports have also included the qualifier that they would try to trade him in such an event.
While they are probably not thrilled with how Bell has conducted himself lately, nor his price tag, the biggest and simplest reason that he is not going to be back is because the Steelers learned that they have some capable running backs ready to step up and shoulder the load in 2019—because they already did it last year.
James Conner started 13 games in 2018, missing three due to injury, and he rushed for nearly 1000 yards at 4.5 yards per carry. He scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and added another on a reception, among 55 for nearly another 500 yards.
And then there was rookie fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels, who spent most of the year as an afterthought but gradually got more attention, to the point that he was the one asked to start and shoulder the load in Conner’s absence.
One of the reasons that he was prepared to do that, though, is because Conner helped him. Samuels was not a natural running back in college so he spent his first year in the NFL really just learning what it took to serve that role. And it was the second-year back helping him along in the absence of a certain more experienced player.
“James has helped me since I first got here”, he told the team’s website about his relationship with the former Pitt back. “Whenever I needed help he gave me pointers. When he wasn’t playing he would give me pointers, what I should know. He helped me so much”.
Depending upon how the Steelers address the running back position this offseason, Conner and Samuels figure to be their one-two punch that they thought they might have with Bell and Conner, the latter being the second fiddle. This setup might make more sense relative to their skill sets.
“It’s all love”, he said about the running back room and of the distribution of snaps and touches. “We are all brothers, one family. When one person eats, we all eat. We encourage each other all of the time, even in practice. That is how we are”.