Le'Veon Bell opens up about why he didn't sign an extension with the Steelers
By Tommy Jaggi
Le'Veon Bell did not leave the Pittsburgh Steelers on good terms; that much is for certain. After earning All-Pro honors in just his second season, the former Michigan State running back rounded out his rookie contract by earning 1,268 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in just 12 games in 2016.
From there, the Steelers slapped the franchise tag on Bell, and he earned his second First-Team All-Pro honors with a big season in 2016. But that was it. Bell wasn't going to take anymore. In 2018, Bell set out the entire season due to a contract dispute. This was a decision that angered many of his Steelers teammates, as Bell didn't make them aware of his decision.
Recently, the former star running back opened up to the Steel Here Podcast about his time in Pittsburgh and the reason that he chose to leave. Bell cited contract talks as the reason for leaving and wasn't pleased with the lack of guaranteed money the Steelers were offering.
"“With the Jets, the contract thing was that they had guaranteed me a certain amount of money. It was like $39 million versus Pittsburgh which guaranteed me $17 million. At the time, I had just played on the franchise tag and I was already lowkey chancing because before that I was already being told I was going to get a long-term deal. We didn’t work it out. I did play under the tag because they said they would get me right the next year. The final offer was $13.3 million per year and the franchise tag was like $12 million. You know, the annual was fine but they only guaranteed me the first year of the contract. So, I was basically playing on another franchise tag. I get hurt and you can release me in Year 2. That’s how Pittsburgh does contracts.”"- Le'Veon Bell, via Steel Here Podcast
Bell went on to say that, as a 'Pittsburgh guy', he wishes he could have stayed in the Steel City. Ultimately, the former All-Pro running back went where the money led him, though it's hard to imagine his career turning out worse had he stayed with the Steelers.
In his first season with the New York Jets after taking the 2018 off, Bell mustered up just 789 rushing yards on a dismal 3.2 yards per carry, via ESPN stats. He also took a big step back in the receiving game. Though he managed 66 receptions of 461 yards, his 5.9 yards per target made this one of his least efficient seasons as a pass-catcher.
Steelers were right not to offer Le'Veon Bell more guaranteed money
The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently used some of Bell's past incidents against him when trying to negotiate a new deal. At the time, fans were frustrated that the team didn't do more to keep him around, but Kevin Colbert made the right decision by not overpaying to keep his star running back in town.
Prior to holding out, Bell's efficiency took a massive hit -- dropping from 4.9 yards per carry in 2016 to 4.0 per carry in 2017. He was also coming off a season in which he touched the ball over 400 times, and with the tread that was already worn off the tires, I was opposed to giving him a big deal.
Bell looked completely washed up in the back half of his career with the Jets, Chiefs, Ravens, and Buccaneers before stepping away from the game in 2021. Though the former All-Pro would like one more chance to show what he can do, I'm not sure there's a team out there who would consider even giving a tryout to a 31-year-old running back who has been out of the league who didn't appear to have anything left in the tank when he last played.
I've never had regrets over Le'Veon Bell's decision to sign with the Jets, and I was convinced that it was in the best interest of the team to not load him up with guaranteed money. The Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately drafted James Conner with the compensatory pick they earned from letting Bell walk, and Conner had a solid career on his rookie deal in Pittsburgh.