IT LOOKS LIKE Le’Veon Bell’s days as a Pittsburgh Steeler are coming to a close after the Steelers stated that they are open to trading the three-time pro-bowler. Bell, who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft has been in a two-season long dispute with the Steelers over pay. Bell wanted $17m per year, a figure that would have put him past LA Rams running back Todd Gurley on $15m per year to become the highest paid running back in the league.
For all of the two-year conflict, Bell and the Steelers have seemed to be a long way off an agreement. Communication was low from the start. Bell indicated his original demands with the release of a rap album in August of 2016 in which he stated “I’m at the top, and if not, I’m the closest. I’m a need 15 a year and they know this”, referring to his desire for $15m at the time.
The first use of the franchise tag (which contractually binds a player to a team for a year under certain conditions) led to the first hold-out, with Bell refusing to report for training camp before the start of the 2017 season, finally signing a franchise tender at the start of September, just in time for opening day.
At the start of 2018 Bell then threatened retirement or sitting out the entire 2018 season if he wasn’t to get what he wanted. The Steelers, however, chose to franchise tag him for the second time in March before drafting running back James Conner in April. This was seen as yet another indication to Bell that the Steelers were thinking of life without him, reportedly using Conner as leverage in negotiations.
However, the biggest punch for relations between the two sides came in July when the Rams gave running back Todd Gurley the $15m Bell had been demanding from the Steelers, a big blow to Bell’s ego and cause for him to further push up his demands in an attempt to become the highest paid running back in the league.
This chain of events led to Bell again refusing to attend training camp and releasing a new rap album called “My Side of Things”, seeing it as his attempt to explain his story the way he wanted it to be told.
By the time the opening week of the season came, his teammates had had enough. Veteran guard Ramon Foster said Bell “doesn’t give a damn”, fellow offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David De-Castro followed suit, a move that angered Bell. At this point, it seemed that the most likely conclusion was that he would sit out until week 10 and then report to gain the money from the franchise tender, before testing free agency in the summer.
For much of the off season, it seemed as if the Steelers would not be trading Bell. However, a change is likely to have come due to the rise of second-year running back James Conner. Conner, who made headlines in 2016 for his battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma ran for 135 yards in his first game of the season. Performances have dipped since, but the former Pittsburgh Panther player finds himself seventh for rushing in the league thus far this season, putting him first in the depth chart and giving the Steelers confidence in his immediate and long-term future. This led to the Steelers announcement that they were willing to listen to trade offers, something that had been seen as impossible mere weeks before.
That, for Bell, leaves several options in terms of teams he can go to this season. The current favourites for his service are the New York Jets who have reportedly already made contact with the Steelers. Other teams who are likely to be in the market for Bell are the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers.
The only remaining issue is that none of the offers that have been discussed thus far with the Steelers have come close to what they want. That being said, with the final year of Bell’s contract running down, the Steelers might feel that it is better to cash in now than to get nothing, which would be the case if Bell were to leave in the summer, a common point of view.
Whatever happens from here, the conflict between Bell and the Steelers will go down as one of the most dramatic player-team conflicts in recent NFL history.