The Pittsburgh Steelers began their preparations for their season-opening game against the Cleveland Browns in earnest on Wednesday, and star running back Le’Veon Bell wasn’t there.
The 26-year-old is standing his ground, unwilling to play under the franchise tag for the second straight year, and wants a long-term commitment from the Steelers that they haven’t been willing to give.
And his teammates have had enough.
‘Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn’
Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen seem to be most bothered by Bell’s stance.
Guard Ramon Foster told reporters, “What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess we’ll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this.
“He’s making seven times what I make, twice as much as Al [Villanueva] and we’re the guys who do it for him.”
Foster went where players rarely go: He brought salary into the discussion. Players may occasionally question whether a guy on another team is worth as much as he’s paid, but it’s hard to find examples of a player calling out one of his own teammates.
Many players understand that an NFL career doesn’t last long, and they should make as much money as they can for however long their careers last.
It’s also not often we see players taking credit for the success of teammates, as Foster did.
Foster tweeted this earlier Wednesday, a photoshop of Bell’s head on the body of Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?”
A sticking point seems to be the mystery over when Bell will arrive. Center Maurkice Pouncey said, “Why play hide and seek? Why let your agent say this? Just man up and tell us what you’re going to do.”
Agent looking out for Bell
Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, did several media appearances earlier Wednesday, and intimated that the two are taking a big-picture approach.
On Sirius XM NFL, Bakari asked, “You’re [Pittsburgh GM] Kevin Colbert. You’re [head coach] Mike Tomlin, and you have possibly a once-in-a-generation player for one more season. What would your plan be?”
The host answered, “I would use him as much as possible to make sure that we have the best possible chance of winning that Super Bowl.”
Bell had 406 touches last year (431 when you add in the playoffs), 60 more than any other player in the league. If, over a 16-game season, the Steelers would get him that many touches or more and then let him walk, that would almost undoubtedly depress Bell’s interest in free agency, because a player getting over 800 touches in just two years – and being tackled about that many times – is likely worn down.
“If my clients win Super Bowls and go into the Hall of Fame, that’s great,” Bakari said. “But my No. 1 concern is to make sure my clients leave their sport financially secure.”
The deadline for Bell and the Steelers to get a long-term deal done passed in July; his option now is to play under his one-year, guaranteed $14.5 million franchise tag. By rule, he must play at least six games for an accrued season.
After Bakari made the rounds, Colbert released a statement: “We are not going to discuss any conversations through the media. If Adisa would like to talk further, he has the phone number to our offices.”
One last shot to Bell
Pouncey seemingly tried to scare Bell into returning, saying, “A star is born every year in the NFL. Did anyone know (Kansas City’s) Kareem Hunt would be an All-Pro before last season? If James Conner didn’t have cancer, he’d have been a first-round pick. Just watch him.”
Conner, drafted last year, stands to get the bulk of Bell’s workload while he sits out.
Not for nothing, but Bell should save his money this year. Last year, he presented the linemen with what appears to be Hublot Ferrari Unico Titanium watches, which if he paid full price ran him about $20,000 each. Luxury presents clearly don’t buy loyalty.
Players have until 4 p.m. Saturday to report to their team in order to play in a Sunday game that same week.