Le’Veon Bell’s final practice in a Steelers uniform may have lasted five minutes, and his final game in Pittsburgh, albeit productive as usual, could wind up being most remembered by the two times the NFL's premier workhorse didn’t touch the ball.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on Friday that Bell showed up for last Saturday’s walk-through five minutes before its conclusion and didn’t comply on game day with Mike Tomlin’s requirement of arriving at least two hours ahead of time. (The Gazette reports that several players and even one coach repeatedly did the same last season).
Perhaps it’s a fitting conclusion to a turbulent season, if not career, for Bell with the Steelers. After receiving the franchise tag last spring, making him the NFL’s highest-paid back ($12.2 million), Bell held out for all of training camp, reporting to the club to sign his tender just nine days before the season.
He eventually rounded into his usual All-Pro form, finishing third in the NFL in rushing and first — by a wide margin — in carries and touches (career-high 321 and 406, respectively). But he was unsurprisingly rusty out of the gate, and his 4.0-yard average was the lowest since his rookie season.
Last week Bell told ESPN he would consider sitting out next season if the Steelers again used the franchise tag, which would pay the soon-to-be 26-year-old north of $14 million in 2018. Though that seems highly unlikely, the Gazette said it’s possible the Steelers could decide Bell is not worth the cost combined with the headaches.
Bell scored a pair of touchdowns and tallied 155 total yards on his 25 carries in Pittsburgh’s 45-42 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday. But he didn’t get a chance on either of the Steelers’ failed fourth-and-short attempts, and despite a frenzied comeback and Ben Roethlisberger and Co. putting up 42 points and more than 500 yards of total offense, offensive coordinator Todd Haley was oustered this week.
Will Bell’s contract be the next the Steelers opt not to renegotiate? Mike Tomlin has become a master in dealing with distractions and drama on and off the field — though there are examples that he could've handled better.
But for all of Bell’s wild production, will Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert decide it’s not worth the toll? He's one of the game's most feared players but also one of its most volatile. And in a locker room defined by volatility last season, and in an NFL era when teams find backs on the cheap, it's no slam dunk the Steelers will use the tag in a second consecutive season, never mind extend another multi-year offer reportedly promising at least $30 million.