After a slow start to the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have turned it around, winning two big games against the Atlanta Falcons and division rivals Cincinnati Bengals to go to 3-2-1 on the year. Further help is seemingly on the way as Le’Veon Bell reportedly plans to make his season debut following the Steelers bye this week. Yet his return raises questions for both Bell and the team.
It was a hectic offseason for Bell and the Steelers. Pittsburgh decided to franchise tag their star running back for the second consecutive year after failing to meet his long-term contract demands. Not locking up Bell seemed like a risk for the Steelers given that Bell has led running backs in all-purpose yards since 2014 and has served as Pittsburgh’s workhorse for the past five seasons. The Steelers plan appeared to backfire when Bell decided to hold out to start the season to protect his health and preserve his value on the open market as a free agent.
Without Bell, Pittsburgh was forced to start the season with backup running back James Connor, who has excelled during Bell’s absence. Bell will finally make his return following the Steelers week 7 bye, but with Connor and the Steeler’s current success, is it too late?
Connor has over 700 scrimmage yards in 6 games. Compared to Bell’s first 6 games last season, Connor has outplayed his teammate averaging more yards per carry with more total scrimmage yards and three more touchdowns. Bell may be returning but there’s no guarantee he will reclaim his starting position especially after being called out by multiple members of his team for his decision to not report for the first half of the season.
Although Bell’s holdout angered many Pittsburgh players, fans, and fantasy football owners across the country, it is easy to see why Bell made the decision he did. Throughout Bell’s career, the Steelers have run him to the ground, giving him over 1000 touches in the past four years. Why would Bell risk his health and longevity, and losing millions elsewhere, to take pounding after pounding for a team that refuses to pay him?
You can’t fault Bell for his decision, but it may come back to bite him in the butt. Bell’s playing time is not guaranteed upon his return. While that may be good for his longevity, it will leave potential suitors wondering about Bell’s true value, especially considering Connor’s success. Were Bell’s accomplishments due to his talent, or the Steelers system that boasts an All-Pro receiver and Hall of Fame quarterback, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger respectively, for Bell’s entire career. This is not to take away from James Connor, but it will be a question every organization asks themselves before they decide to pay Bell $15 million a year in the offseason.
Make no mistake, someone will pay Le’Veon Bell big money to come to their franchise. Don’t be surprised though if Bell doesn’t get the type of blockbuster offer he’s been seeking.