courtesy Sports Illustrated

Trouble in Pittsburgh

NFL expert Lindsey Prather details the rocky relationship between Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers.

Throughout the chaotic early weeks of the NFL season, there is one particular situation that I feel comfortable to predict. The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get rid of Le’veon Bell, through a trade or otherwise.

It’s no secret that the Steelers have been in slap-fights with Bell throughout most of his career at Pittsburgh. He has been held under his market value with two separate franchise tags. The two sides have feuded both publicly and privately for so long that it’s difficult to remember how exactly all of this started.

However, coming off of his only back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Bell has sat out and been more disadvantaged than helped by missing a crucial chance to prove his consistency. What are the potential rewards for this holdout?

When this all began, the Steelers were coming off of a disappointing loss to the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, leading up to Super Bowl 50. In the run-up to the 2017 season, the Steelers decided to place the franchise tag on Bell, a designation that locked him in as a Steeler for the year. The Steelers front office did this with the hopes of buying more time to organize and sign other crucial contracts.

The general goodwill of Bell’s relationship with the Steelers began to waver following the 2017 Draft. In the third round, the Steelers made a move to increase their leverage. They selected a promising young running back from the University of Pittsburgh named James Conner.

The Steelers did not meet the deadline to negotiate a deal with Bell under the franchise tag. Following a brief holdout from training camp before the 2017 season, Bell reluctantly signed a deal under the tag for $12 million, with no-long term provisions or guarantee. This set the stage for a repeat of these same issues in 2018, only this time with a more permanent holdout.

Le’veon Bell has not played a single snap in the 2018 season, following a repeated use of the franchise tag to lock him in for another season with the Steelers. This holdout that has continued this long into the season is rare in the modern era. However, will holdouts like this become more common?

The most common reason that has been given for Bell’s holdout is the lack of guarantees for skill-position players regarding both salary and job security. Perhaps the most glaring example of these issues is illustrated with Earl Thomas’ current situation.

Earl Thomas was the starting safety for the Seattle Seahawks. Throughout the offseason, there was rampant speculation surrounding Thomas potentially being traded to get value for the Seahawks and security in a new contract with a new team. Thomas was an aging safety, and although he was an excellent player, the prospect of a trade was appealing in the final year of his contract.

Rumors ran wild, and Thomas nearly sat out from the early part of the season with the Seahawks due to the choking uncertainty. Nonetheless, Thomas played for the Seahawks as planned with no new deal or negotiation. In Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals, Thomas suffered a season-ending injury, breaking his left leg.

I am reasonably confident that Bell will not finish his career as a Steeler. He’s an excellent RB with a desire to be paid well for his skills. His NFL career isn’t over. However, the NFL Players Association has indicated that a primary subject of the 2020 contract renewal will cover the same issues that Bell’s holdout seeks to address.

There is going to be a reckoning regarding the ability of players to seek out security. The only question that remains is whether it will be achieved through individual holdouts or collective action on behalf of the players.

Post Author: Lindsey Prather