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‘Didn’t Want To Leave Pittsburgh’: Le’Veon Bell Explains Contract Dispute, Why He Left Steelers For Jets

It was quite the contract saga for the Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell ahead of the 2018 season, which ultimately caused Bell to surprisingly sit out the entire season, forfeiting millions on the franchise tag and speeding up his departure from the only place he called home for four seasons.

Now, years later, Bell opened up about those contract negotiations and ultimately leaving Pittsburgh, stating on the “Steel Here” podcast with Barstool’s Jersey Jerry and Kevin Adams that he never wanted to leave Pittsburgh.

“No, I didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh. No, because at the end of the day, that’s where I was at,” he said. “It was like, that’s where I got drafted at…especially after really going to different teams and seeing how it is, when the team has their guy, like you’re their guy. I was Pittsburgh’s guy.”

After playing on the franchise tag in 2017, Bell opted against doing so again in 2018. Despite the Steelers reportedly offering a large contract, one even Bell’s agent suggested he accept, Bell sat out the entire season. Pittsburgh did not franchise him again and he signed with the New York Jets.

The hangup in the negotiations with the Steelers was the guaranteed money, at least from Bell’s perspective, especially after he played on the franchise tag in 2017. But even the yearly average was an issue for Bell, who was hoping for around $16 million a season but stated that he didn’t get offered more than $13.3 million ahead of the 2018 season, which was right around the franchise tag number again.

“Yeah, it was a little petty stuff, like the little guarantee stuff.” he said. “The first time I’m thinking like, ‘Could I have just really just ate it?’ Yeah. I probably could have really ate it. But it’s like, I think at that time I was set in the moment I was like so like stern and like, ‘Dang bro, I played through this injury, I done did this.’ Everybody inside really knew what was going on. I done play through this injury. Y’all done had me pull a franchise tag. Y’all already said y’all was gonna do this. And then the next year, when it’s time…the year I sat out, I already had said no to {$13.3 million] the year before that.

“And then I played on the [franchise] tag at [$12.1]. So now, the tag is about to be $14.5 million I think, or 14, and then they sent over a long-term contract, $13.3 million again. I’m thinking like, ‘Bro, y’all really don’t want me here ’cause y’all sent over the same contract, I just turned down. I just played up on the franchise tag because y’all sent me his contact I said no to last year. I literally said no to it already. So why y’all gonna send me and I played on the tag for y’all and then y’all sent me the same thing over?'”

After turning down a contract offer ahead of the 2017 season and playing on the franchise tag, Bell believed he was eventually going to get a deal done with the Steelers. But then, according to his interpretation of things, the franchise played hardball, holding his suspension for weed after his arrest in 2014 over his head in negotiations.

Eventually, Bell did what he says he never wanted to do, which was leave Pittsburgh, signing a four-year, $52 million deal with the Jets in free agency ahead of the 2019 season, getting $27 million in guarantees over the first two years of the contract.

It signaled the beginning of the end of his career. Bell averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in the Jets’ struggling offense with rumors the organization didn’t even want him anymore. Bell was signed under Mike Maccagnan, who would surprisingly be fired later that offseason. Bell wouldn’t even make it through two full seasons with the team and bounced around the rest of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

During his time with the Jets, Bell learned quickly that the grass wasn’t greener, and that it was going to be a real battle in New York due to the head coach, that being Adam Gase at the time.

“I’m angry now. I’m angry [after signing with the Jets],” Bell said. “And at the same time I’m still like, ‘I know I can do whatever I want to do on the field.’  I’m confident. That’s how I feel how good I am in football. We get to New York and that’s when I instantly find out, oh, head coaches make a huge difference. Huge difference. Like as soon as I get to New York, I find that out. Like the first week, the first week it’s like, bro I knew it was gonna be a battle. I knew it was gonna be battle. I knew it. But at the same time, I’m confident in myself like, ‘Oh, I know I feel good in football.’ So it’s like, dang, he can call bad plays or whatever, but it’s like, I’m still good enough. I’m make this guy miss, bro. I’m gonna do this, do that. Nah, it’s….I promise you, it’s too hard to do.”

It had been clear since the beginning that Bell and then-Jets head coach Adam Gase were never on the same page, and it didn’t help matters when reports surfaced that Gase was opposed to Bell’s signing. Subsequently, Bell has been consistently unsatisfied with his usage in the Jets’ offense.

Ultimately, it was a mistake to leave Pittsburgh, and it was likely a mistake to haggle over the guarantees for Bell, especially with a franchise that historically pays out lucrative contracts it signs players to. It’s a cautionary tale, and one that remains one of the biggest “what ifs?” in franchise history.

Who knows how differently things are in 2018, 2019 and 2020 for the Steelers with Bell in the fold, instead of him playing in New York.

Catch the entire, 90-minute interview with Bell below.

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