Why Le'Veon Bell not reporting to Steelers is big win for Patriots

Alex Reimer
November 14, 2018 - 11:57 am

It doesn’t seem like the Steelers need Le’Veon Bell to challenge the Patriots and make a Super Bowl run this season. They’ve scored the fifth-most points in the league without him and boast one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses –– as anybody who watched their 52-21 drubbing of the Panthers last Thursday night was surely able to notice. Most importantly, second-year running back James Conner has picked up Bell’s production, gaining 1,158 yards from scrimmage through nine contests.

With Bell now sitting out the entire season, he will forfeit his entire $14.5 million salary. And unless the Steelers franchise Bell for the third consecutive year this spring, which seems unlikely, they’ll save roughly $14 million in cap space and gain a compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere. With that in mind, Bell’s decision to walk away from the Steeler seems to be a win for the franchise. His absence hasn’t slowed them down this season, and now they’ll have more cap space to pursue players on the defensive side of the ball next year.

But that would be narrow-minded. Bell, 26, is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. While Conner has replicated his production so far, it’s seldom good to lose any player with that kind of skill set. There may have been a brief transition period if Bell returned. But overall, teams are better off with two supremely talented running backs instead of one, especially given the propensity for injury at the position.

Conner, who was placed on injured reserve last year due to MCL surgery, is currently in concussion protocol. He might not be active for the Steelers’ game Sunday against Jacksonville, leaving them with the uninspiring duo of Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels in the backfield.

A third-round draft choice out of the University of Pittsburgh, Conner tore his MCL in college as well. The young running back has an extensive injury history, and the Steelers have no insurance policy. 

It will be a challenge for the Patriots to stop Ben Roethlisberger when they clash in Pittsburgh next month. But the task would be easier if Roethlisberger is forced to play with a diminished backfield, which is unequivocally more likely now that Bell will spend the year on the sidelines.