Earlier this week, the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell failed to reach an agreement on a long term deal. This means Bell will play under the franchise tag for the second straight year. He will earn a little over $15 million for the coming season.
Bell is no doubt an elite player. What makes the three-time Pro Bowler unique is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His 160 total catches in the last two years have added another layer to an already loaded Steelers’ offense. He has also rushed for over 1200 yards in three of his five seasons.
Pittsburgh’s long-term contract offer to Bell was somewhat curious. Bell has more fully guaranteed money coming his way this year under the franchise tag than he would have had he accepted the long-term deal. Thus, no one can blame him for declining it.
Feelings appear to be hurt in the Bell camp. His agent now says it is a “practical reality” that the coming season will be Bell’s last with the Steelers. Situations like this can always change. Bell could also choose to sit out regular season games. The long-term offer the Steeler’s gave Bell was comical. Still, it is also not hard to see where the organization is coming from. Whenever it happens, the Steelers should not fear life without Le’Veon Bell and here’s why.
The rest of the division stinks: In your head, take Bell off the Steelers roster. Ben Roethlisberger is getting up in years, but still playing at a high level and threw 28 touchdown passes last year. He is under contract until the end of the 2019 season. Also, we do not know if Mason Rudolph can play, but at least the Steelers have some sort of succession plan at quarterback. Antonio Brown is under contract until the end of the 2021 season.
Now, knowing nothing else about the Steelers’ roster, consider the rest of the AFC North. The Browns appear to finally be rebuilding in the right way. However, it is going to take a while to go from 0-16 to a legitimate threat to one of the NFL’s most rock solid franchises. The Ravens seem eager to create a quarterback controversy. This is in spite of the fact that Joe Flacco has led the franchise to a Super Bowl title and has never posted a losing record when playing a full season as the starting quarterback. Lastly, the Bengals are permanent residents on the NFL’s never-ending hamster wheel of mediocrity.
In summary, the Steelers have won their division in three of the last four seasons. They are nearly a lock to do it again for at least the next two years, and it does not matter if Le’Veon Bell is part of the equation.
Winning the division guarantees at least one home playoff game. From there, anything can happen. The NFL playoffs are rarely about which teams have the best players, they usually come down to which teams are the healthiest and who has a little luck on their side. If the Eagles can win a Super Bowl without Carson Wentz, Pittsburgh certainly does not need Bell to win one in the near future.
Bell is not all that reliable and may have been overused already:
As good as he is, Bell has played a full 16 game regular season just once in his career. He has had his fair share of injury and disciplinary issues. Also, Bell touched the ball an astounding 406 times last year during the regular season. That was a new career-high. Even though Bell is just 26, his career already has a ton of miles on it.
Additionally, running backs have a very short shelf life in the NFL. DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing for the 2014 season. He retired earlier this month at the age of 30. Stories similar to Murray are becoming more and more common. Thus, it is entirely possible that we have already seen the best Bell has to offer. A lot of teams have figured this out. The vast majority use two or three running backs instead of one workhorse. Bell has been an exception to this in recent years. Still, the well-run franchises in sports rarely break the bank for a single player. The St. Louis Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk and did not skip a beat. The Steelers have six Lombardi trophies to show how well run they are. They will likely and should be perfectly content to let Bell move on, whenever it comes down to that.