Pittsburgh Steelers teammates had remained quietly supportive of Le'Veon Bell and his contract standoff with the team for a long time. That is, until Bell opted not to show up this week.
It was expected that Bell would be reporting to the team after staying away all offseason. After all, it is Week 1 in the NFL and Bell showed up on the Sunday prior one year ago. But we've arrived at Wednesday — four days before the Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns — and Bell is nowhere to be found.
His agent, Adisa Bakari, went on Sirius XM Radio and suggested that Bell might be waiting a long time, perhaps as long as Week 10, before he decides to show up. That news did not go over well with a few Steelers teammates, specifically the offensive linemen who help pave the way for the Pro Bowl running back.
OG Ramon Foster did not hold back a bit, saying, via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette: “What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess, so we’ll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this."
Foster also added: "He’s making seven times what I make, twice as much as Al (Villanueva) is making, and we’re the guys who do it for him.”
Tell us how you really feel.
It appears that many of the Steelers' players expected to see Bell there, and several national media outlets reported the plan was for Bell to show up at some point this week — many indicating that he'd arrive prior to a Wednesday morning team meeting.
That time came and passed. And they're not happy about it. Or maybe they just wish they knew what Bell's plan was if holding out into the regular season was his strategy all along.
Maurkice Pouncey sounds like he's over the whole thing, telling NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala: "Why play hide and seek? Why let your agent say this? Just man up and tell us what you’re going to do."
Then there's this interesting observation (via The Athletic's Mark Kaboly) from OG David DeCastro on whether Bell would be welcomed back into the Steelers' locker room after potentially missing games: "I don't know, it's kind of awkward. It's kind of weird."
The whole thing is kind of weird, really, and after a prolonged absence, it sounds as if no one really wants to talk about it or speculate how it will end. That would include the team, which issued a feisty-sounding statement after Bell failed to show up Sunday night (or even Monday morning).
This summer, the Steelers upped their offer considerably and continued to say nice things about their franchise back with the hope they could work something out long term. All that feels like years ago now. Yes, this is the second straight franchise tag to which Bell has been shackled, and you can't blame a player for fighting for every last penny he thinks he's worth.
But the frustration has now leaked into the locker room to the point where players now appear to be on management's side — or at least they're not respecting the way Bell is going about his holdout, seemingly leaving many of them in the dark on his plans.
It feels now more than ever that this will not end well in Pittsburgh, and there's even the chance that the team moves on from him completely before he reports. Will a team such as the New York Jets try to swoop in and trade for Bell with tensions seemingly at an all-time high? After all, few people saw the Khalil Mack trade coming together as quickly as it did, and the Steelers are now talking up Bell's would-be replacement, James Conner.
Always something interesting going on with the Steelers, who navigated their weekly drama a year ago to a 13-3 record but saw their season fall apart following a controversial loss to the Patriots that cost them home-field advantage in the playoffs and the postseason loss to the Jaguars a month later.