Since running back Le’Veon Bell opted not to play under the franchise tag in 2018 and was allowed to hit free agency a year later, he has been signed to four different teams, and released by three of them. The fourth, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just signed him, and he hasn’t played for him yet. His addition to the roster—which reunites him with former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Antonio Brown—came following an injury to running back Leonard Fournette, potentially indicating its temporary nature.
Bell’s career since that decision four years ago has been defined by it. Since that time, he has started 19 of 31 games, rushing for 1,200 yards on 358 carries with seven touchdowns. He has also caught 83 passes for another 598 yards and one touchdown. In his 62 games played with the Steelers, he was averaging more yards from scrimmage per game than anybody in NFL history.
After signing with the Buccaneers, he was asked during his first press conference if he regretted his decisions during that 2018 season—first to turn down the contract the Steelers offered, and then to sit out the season—and how he handled it. He said that, even knowing what he knows now about how his career would play out, he wouldn’t go back and make different business decisions. But he might approach it a bit differently.
“No, I don’t think I regret sitting out, or the way anything went down”, he said. “Maybe more so of having my name in the headlines and maybe drawing so much attention to it. That would be the only thing I wish I could do differently”.
“My decision, what I wanted to do at the time, I felt like, [if I knew then what I know now about how my career would go] and I could go back four years ago, I probably would still do the same thing”, he continued. “I don’t think I would change anything just outside of being in the media, or talking on social media so much. I think I would be more quiet about it, and just went about my business a little differently. I don’t regret the way things went. It helped me become who I am today. I wouldn’t take anything back”.
If he really does weigh how his career played out, one could still make his argument. He did lose out on the $14 million-plus that was his franchise tag value for the 2018 season, but it was either that or risk injury once the deadline for signing a long-term deal passed. And he did get more fully guaranteed money from the New York Jets than the Steelers offered at signing, even if Pittsburgh’s reported offer was more robust in that regard than often portrayed.
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets. He was released after just one season, but he earned $27.5 million, which is barely more than what he was fully guaranteed at signing. It’s also close to double what his franchise tag value was.
Since then, however, he’s only earned little more than $1 million in his time spent with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. Now we’ll see how much time he spends with the Buccaneers.