Bell Bails Out for Now But Divorce with Steelers Not Final
By missing practice again on the first day of in-earnest preparation for Sunday’s regular-season opener at Cleveland, the Steelers running back officially put himself before the team in the eyes of his teammates.
The initial reaction was as emotional as it gets, and expressed equal parts disappointment, disillusionment, disbelief and disgust.
But Le’Veon Bell still isn’t persona non grata among Steelers.
By missing practice again on Wednesday, the first day of in-earnest preparation for Sunday’s regular-season opener at Cleveland, Bell officially put himself before the team in the eyes of his teammates.
And that’s Conduct Unbecoming in an NFL locker room.
“At this point, go ahead and miss 10 (weeks),” center Maurkice Pouncey insisted.
Bell can miss a lot more than Browns week and still position himself to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 (he has to be on the active roster or the reserve-injured list at full pay for six games to earn an accrued season, according to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players).
Pouncey admitted he thought Bell was going to show up on Wednesday all along.
Even after Bell had skipped all offseason and preseason team activities, including training camp for a second consecutive season.
Even after Bell had neglected to sign his one-year franchise tender and participate in practice on Monday.
Even after the Steelers had issued a statement on Monday announcing they were “disappointed” in Bell.
Wednesday was supposed to be the day the Steelers and Bell would at last turn the page, the day Bell would finally reunite with his teammates.
“Now that he didn’t, obviously, it’s Le’Veon over the Steelers,” Pouncey announced.
That’s unacceptable from the Steelers’ perspective.
But it won’t be a deal-breaker.
Pouncey and guard Ramon Foster threw the words “selfish,” and “disheartening,” and “pissed off” around while reacting to the latest turn of events in the ongoing Bell saga.
They weren’t ranting, raving or foaming at the mouth.
But they likewise left nothing to interpretation or imagination.
Foster even included a recount of text messages from a couple of the offensive linemen asking Bell when he intended to report, an exchange that had taken place prior to the preseason finale against Carolina.
“He hit us with an, ‘I don’t even know,’” Foster said.
To teammates in the process of getting ready for the regular season and Cleveland, that was insulting.
The amount of money Bell is potentially leaving on the table to stay away, meanwhile, is almost unfathomable.
The franchise tag was, and still is worth $14.55 million for 16 games of service.
Bell will forfeit $856,000 for every regular-season week he misses.
“Pay me $14 million, OK?” Foster offered. “Who’s not gonna do that?”
Bell, apparently, at least for as long as he can get away with it.
The end game is unrestricted free agency.
Assuming he isn’t willing to risk sitting out the entire season and then hope the Steelers ultimately rescind the franchise tag, Bell has to report eventually.
“I don’t know how well that’s gonna go,” Foster maintained.
Defensive end Cam Heyward does.
“If he gets on the bus later, so be it,” Heyward maintained. “The bus makes stops. We’re all about winning. If he’s going to be a part of it, be a part of it.
“Until then, we’ll keep moving.”
Such a cooler-heads-will-prevail-eventually sentiment was already gaining momentum in the locker room as early as Thursday afternoon.
“No hard feelings, it just is what it is,” insisted guard David DeCastro, who just a day earlier had suggested Bell should stay away all season if he wasn’t going to participate in Cleveland week. “Le’Veon’s not here, so we’ve gotta go out and show we can do it without him.
“We like Le’Veon.”
They’ll like him even more once he resumes carrying the ball.