Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Lineman

USA Today

Everything Is Not Cool In Pittsburgh

This Le'Veon Bell thing got really nasty, really quickly.

September 06, 2018 - 9:56 am
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Let's jump in the way back machine, shall we? All the way back to yesterday. The Pittsburgh Steelers were patiently awaiting and fully expecting Le'Veon Bell’s arrival. 

Nobody was freaking out. Everybody was optimistic. It was just a matter of time. It was inevitable. Just Le’Veon doing Le’Veon things. But now it’s go-time, and he’ll be there.  Center Maurkice Pouncey even told ESPN: "He'll be here Wednesday. Count on it." Head coach Mike Tomlin was chill: "I haven't thought about it." 

Everything was cool. Business is business, and one of the best run organizations in all of professional sports was keeping emotion out of it and keeping their eyes on Sunday and the Browns.

Right up Until Lev didn't show up to work yesterday. And then all hell broke loose. 

Because all of a sudden, everything changed. And it changed in a hurry. All of a sudden, it was a HUGE deal that Le'Veon Bell wasn't at practice. All of a sudden the Steelers heading into final preparations for Sunday without their game-changing, dual-threat Pro Bowler in the backfield and no sense of when he would be there, became a big freaking deal. 

Not my take, but the guys who block for him: Check this quote from Pouncey: "Obviously it's Le'Veon over the Steelers and we are the Steelers." 

And this quote from guard Ramon Foster, the Steelers’ player rep: "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. He's making seven times what I made, twice as much as Al (Villanueva) is making, and we're the guys who do it for him." 

And finally this dagger from an anonymous player to ESPN: "He f***ed us." 

All of a sudden, this was the very opposite of business. This was completely, 100% personal. Hell, check this quote Foster gave to 97.3 The Fan in Pittsburgh: 

"My mom died, I went to the funeral and came to camp the next day... Al (Villanueva) has seen people die and has come and given his all to this team... It's a little bit tiresome now. I'm tired of the antics."

These aren’t Steelers fans melting down message boards. These are Steelers players.  And not just any Steelers players but team leaders. Pouncey was named a team captain two days ago. Foster is a union rep. Highly respected dudes like that are dropping quotes like this: 

"My mom died, I went to the funeral and came to camp the next day" 

"Al has seen people die." 

"He's making seven times what I made." 

"Obviously it's Le'Veon over the Steelers and we are the Steelers." 

You never see guys crack teammates for doing whatever they can to get whatever they can. Because they’ve probably been in a similar situation themselves. So they normally don’t’ say anything. And they normally support the guy trying to get his. Hell, these same guys have supported Bell in the past. But not anymore. Now, they’re KILLING HIM.  Now, they don’t see him fighting to get what he thinks he’s earned. They see him as putting himself above the team. They see him as a selfish guy, who has abandoned the fight; and now, he’s no longer one of them. They stopped just short of saying this cat is dead to me. These are the guys the Steelers put out front, the dudes who block for Bell, and they're running his ass over. They fully expected him to show up yesterday and be ready to ball in the opener. But he didn’t. And he won’t. And they’re pissed. 

This thing got really nasty really quickly. And it’s complicated. And Bell’s agent isn’t helping matters. Look, I get the agent’s job is to get as much money as possible for the client. That’s how it works. And by raising the possibility of workload, the agent was agenting. The agent is trying to make sure his client is compensated appropriately for the workload. I get that, but I also get how that comes across to his teammates.  

I am never going to tell a player, especially an NFL player, to not do whatever they can to make as much money as they can. Especially if that player is a running back. 

Everyone knows how brutal the game is, how short the career is, and we’re starting to get a sense of what life is like after the game. We’re starting to get a sense of the toll that the game takes on the player and everyone around them in retirement. 

So every player should get as much money as he can. I know every fan wants to believe that the ring is the thing, and it is. But money is really real. And you know what happens to some Super Bowl rings? They get pawned when guys run out of money. 

So hold out, don’t report, do whatever you want to get more leverage, but know that it does come with consequences. And one of those consequences is when you don’t show up when your teammates expect you, they might get pissed. And when your agent starts talking about workload, your teammates might get even more pissed.

Should the teammates be pissed? There is the unwritten rule that you don’t count another man’s money and that players should always have each other’s back in negotiations. And I get the argument that Bell is one of the rare players with the talent who can actually attempt to change the system and that his teammates should support that. I get that he might be trying to break through and maybe even raise the bar for everyone, but yesterday wasn’t a breakthrough. It was a meltdown. And Bell will have to do some serious work to put that all back together. Because once you lose your teammates, especially the guys up front blocking for you, it’s nearly impossible to get them back.  And especially if they think you don’t’ give a damn about them and have put your own interests ahead of the team’s. And they think he has. And in this case, I don’t think I can argue against them.