PITTSBURGH – Le’Veon Bell’s teammates spent the offseason and all of training camp brushing off his absence, confident in their belief that the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back would eventually let the business side of things play out, sign his franchise tender and be at work when things start to get real.
He’s one of the best in the league and earned the right to take his time, they said. He’ll show up when it starts to matter, they said. We’re not worried, they said.
Time to worry. And vent.
Bell’s chair remained tucked neatly into his locker on Wednesday, meaning he will almost certainly not be available when the Steelers open the season in Cleveland this weekend.
And while Bell’s agent took to the airwaves to vaguely explain Bell’s reasoning for staying away, the men Bell has played alongside for the past five years are starting to run out of patience.
Bell and the Steelers spent each of the past two springs failing to come to terms on a new contract. Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on Bell each time. The 26-year-old made over $12 million last season and is due $14.5 million this season if he signs his one-year tender by the weekend and the Steelers opt not to ask for a two-week roster exemption. He will lose about $850,000 for each game he misses.
The biggest issue for Bell’s teammates appears to be the lack of communication. There’s a sense of anger that he has intentionally left them in the dark, forcing them to answer for him. Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari was interviewed on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday and hinted at a concern Bell would be overworked this season by the Steelers, which could affect his earning potential when Bell reaches the open market in 2019. Bell’s 406 touches led the NFL in 2017.