Another week in Pittsburgh has passed, meaning another week without Le’veon Bell. However, Week 10 is a significant deadline to keep your eyes on as a Steeler fan, as Le’veon faces an ultimatum. To return, or not to return?
Is Bell BACK??
Le’veon Bell has caused significant issues for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far this season, misleading the organization on the timetable for his return several times. Now, however, the trade deadline is over, and Bell is set for a return (maybe).
Bell’s plan has played out the way he wanted it too, and even though he has lost about $7 million so far this year, he has succeeded in keeping the Steelers’ hands tied.
Had Bell returned prior to the trade deadline, the Steelers most likely would have dealt him elsewhere. Had the situation played out this way, Bell would have been forced to sign a contract for significantly less value then he would as a free agent. By avoiding signing his tender until after the trade deadline, this kept the Steelers without trade rights to Bell.
After refusing to come back before the trade deadline, the next date to keep an eye on for a return is Tuesday, November 13. If Bell fails to report by 4 p.m. of that day, he will be ineligible to play for the remainder of the season.
All signs report to a Bell return by the 13th, the first being evidence from his Twitter feed. One week away from this deadline, Bell sent a possible sign on Twitter saying “Fairwell Miami” (I think he meant “farewell”).
If he’s leaving Miami, does that mean he’s finally headed for Pittsburgh? Seems probable to me.
Twitter isn’t the only reason why I think that a Bell Week 10 return is evident. Bell’s entire intent of his holdout was to maximize the salary that he believes he deserves, and should he not report Tuesday he’ll miss out on his entire franchise tag salary of $14.5 million. On the other hand, the money doesn’t guarantee a Bell return, simply because we’ve seen him pass up money to prove a point every week so far this season.
Conner v.s. Bell?
As Bell’s holdout ends (if it does) the problems surrounding him may not. Fans and others took to Twitter to put Bell on blast for the issues he has caused, and one fan rose a question that we still don’t know the answer to: Do the Steelers need Bell?
The Steelers have won 4 straight, and 5 of 8 so far this season and without Bell, are sitting atop the AFC North. All the while, Steelers back James Conner (starting in the absence of Bell) has been putting up huge numbers.
Conner is the 1st player in NFL history with 4 games within a single season of 100+ rushing yards, 50+ receiving yards and a touchdown. It should also be noted that through 8 games, Conner has already scored more touchdowns than Bell in the entirety of his 2016 season, and has tied Bell’s TD number from last season.
The fact of the matter is, when Bell returns, he will not be in full mid-season football shape and form. It has been over 8 months since Bell has stepped foot on an NFL football field, while Steelers back James Conner has been putting in work for months preparing and playing in every game this season.
Bell cannot, and will not be expected to put up the numbers that Conner has so far this year due to his missed time, raising the question: what role will Bell serve for the remainder of the season? A question that only Mike Tomlin can answer.
Possible Solutions on the Table for Tomlin?
A possible solution to the Conner vs. Bell debate is to create an offense in Pittsburgh with the return of Bell that closely resembles that of the New Orleans Saints. The Saint’s offense features one RB that is clearly a better pass catcher (Alvin Kamara), and another that fares better coming out of the backfield (Mark Ingram).
The Saints are sitting at (8-1) with this “swiss blade knife” style offense, in which they can flex running backs out wide, opening up endless offensive capabilities. I see the Steelers having success in this way as well if they were to implicate this offensive style.
Bell would be the Kamara, able to flex out wide and be a pass catcher, adding another deep threat to further stretch defenses. Bell has proved that he can be a great pass catcher, and with wide receivers of the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, secondaries would have significant issues stopping the deep ball.
At the same time that Bell is able to flex out wide, forcing the defense to drop more players in coverage, Conner would be in the backfield with one less pair of defensive eyes keeping track of him.
We also know that Bell has complained about his workload, and is concerned about an injury that would devalue him in free agency. This new-look Steelers offense, where Bell is a dual threat back used to compliment Conner, would take a little bit of pressure off Bell, perhaps making him happier in the ‘Burg.
If done correctly, a partial copy of the Saints style of offense, I think would benefit Pittsburgh greatly.
Keep in mind, all of this rides on the notion that Bell opts to return come Tuesday, and sign his franchise tender with the Steelers.
Image retrieved from clutchpoints.com.