What Le’Veon Bell did, taken in isolation, was a business decision to which he was wholly entitled. He elected not to play during the 2018 season under a one-year contract, weighing that against the possibility of injury or overuse that year that would prevent him from earning the type of contract he had hoped to sign already back in 2016.
It’s 2019 now, and he’s finally gotten a deal that at least somewhat resembles what he was looking for, including a reported $25 million in full guarantees, among the amount a signing bonus of $8 million. But yesterday he admitted that it wasn’t his initial plan not to play at all.
Not because he wanted to help the team or because he couldn’t stay away from the game that long, but because he thought it was necessary in order for him to avoid a third franchise tag at a level that the Pittsburgh Steelers would consider.
“That was the biggest mix-up the whole time. I thought I had to sit out until Week 10 or else they can tag me again”, he told Jeremy Fowler in recounting his time away from the game and his teammates in 2018. “Around before the bye week, that’s when I found out I didn’t have to play”.
Another factoid that Bell mentioned was that the Steelers never reached out to him about a potential trade. There had been reports at the time that not only were they fielding calls about the running back, they were actively making calls themselves in the hopes of moving him. if they never even tried to reach out to him about it, however, then it’s unlikely that was the case.
There was that trip into Pittsburgh that Bell made. Apparently, he was planning on showing up. “I was so close to doing it”, he said, but he ultimately decided that he already sat out 10 games, so he could sit out the final six as well. That was the deadline by which he had to report to be eligible to play in 2018.
He admitted that thoughts of how the team would react to him returning weighed on his decision. He had not been in touch with the vast majority of his teammates during that time, keeping them in the dark, which led to a lot frustration that blew up in some pointed remarks when he first failed to report in September.
On the contract that he turned down from the Steelers, he said that the per-year average (reportedly $15 million, and more than he signed for), “was fine”, as was the three-year cash flow. “At the end of the day, I wanted to go where it would make me happy and have the guaranteed money, no matter what happens to me”, he said, noting that he just watched Ryan Shazier’s career come to a standstill due to an on-field injury.
“I love the city of Pittsburgh. People were mad at me, which is understandable, the feeling that I’m not on the field with you”, he concluded. “But everybody is entitled to how they feel. I don’t have any bitterness toward anybody. At the same time, I wish everybody the best over there. It just didn’t work”.
While I admit to some schadenfreude over the fact that he signed a deal worth less than what was offered last year, and I have issues with how he handled his teammates throughout the process, I do genuinely think there is no ill will between Bell and the organization, or at least not that which cannot be overcome.