It’s probably not a surprise to hear, since Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is on the record as saying he doesn’t have a problem with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger publicly throwing other players under the bus, but now-departed Le’Veon Bell says Roethlisberger doesn’t see teammates as equals.
Roethlisberger ‘was a factor’ in Bell leaving
On Wednesday, “Sports Illustrated” posted a story by Jenny Vrentas along with a video of Vrentas interviewing Bell for a cover story.
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets last week, after sitting out the entire 2018 season. The Steelers had used the franchise tender on Bell for the second straight year, and rather than take on the wear and tear — and risk significant injury — of another 400-touch season without a multi-year deal that offered a good chunk of guaranteed money, he stayed home.
Bell decided it was time for a fresh start, and agreed with other former Steelers, Antonio Brown and Josh Harris, who have pointed to Roethlisberger as a source of frustration.
Bell told Vrentas that Roethlisberger wasn’t the only factor in him wanting out of Pittsburgh, but “yes, it was a factor.”
He added that he wishes he and Roethlisberger had “a more open, more genuine, more real” relationship, and that players didn’t feel like Roethlisberger treated other players as being on the same level as him.
“Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is,” Bell said. But “you’re still a teammate at the end of the day. You’re not Kevin Colbert. You’re not [team president Art] Rooney.”
‘That’s tough to play with’
Bell went on to say that Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, but allows his personal preferences to guide his play.
“The organization wants to win. [Coach Mike] Tomlin wants to win. Ben wants to win — but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with,” Bell said. “Ben won a Super Bowl, but he won when he was younger. Now he’s at this stage where he tries to control everything and [team brass] let him get there.
“So if I’m mad at a player and I’m not throwing him the ball — if I’m not throwing [Antonio Brown] the ball and I’m giving JuJu [Smith-Schuster] all the shine or Jesse [James] or Vance [McDonald] or whoever it is, and you know consciously you’re making your other receiver mad but you don’t care, it’s hard to win that way.”
‘I wanted to be happy’
Bell, of course, has heard from those who think he should have taken what the Steelers offered — their final multi-year offer was five years, $70 million, but the only fully guaranteed money was a $10 million signing bonus (the Steelers don’t offer future guarantees in veteran deals). Bell would have received $33 million over the first two seasons, which he almost certainly would have seen.
But in the end he chose the Jets, a team long rumored to be one of his top suitors, and received $25 million fully guaranteed, the most ever for a running back. There are also escalators that can put more money in his coffers. Bell says he was a Jets fan as a kid because he loved Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin.
He even spoke to Martin a few weeks ago, with Martin telling Bell to “go with my heart and my gut.”
“People think, You are an athlete, so you’ve got your money—keep quiet and play,” Bell says. “Yeah, I could’ve taken what [the Steelers] gave me and been quiet and been unhappy. But I chose not to. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to do what I felt was right and move forward. And now I’m here. And I wouldn’t think twice about changing it.”
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