Le’Veon Bell was one of the biggest storylines of the 2018 NFL season, without even taking a snap, well into November. The superstar running back wound up holding out for the entire season, after he and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to come to an agreement on a longterm deal.
The team wanted to use the franchise tag on him, which would have paid over $14.5 million. There was also reportedly an offer of five years, $70 million on the table, but with only $10 million in guarantees.
Bell held out up to the start of the 2017 season for the same issue. Ultimately, he signed the team’s $12.1 million franchise tag.
He was unwilling to do so for a second straight year.
In a new interview, Le’Veon Bell explained that it wasn’t his original plan to sit out the Steelers season.
He sat down with Sports Illustrated, and said that his original plan was to skip OTAs and mini-camp, something far from unheard of for a veteran in a contract dispute.
However, when the season rolled around, he was “uncomfortable” with the situation. Bell drew significant criticism from some teammates, including his offensive line, during the lead-up to the season, though based on this early report from SI, it is unclear how much that contributed.
In a new exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated, the former Steeler told staff writer Jenny Vrentas that his original goal was to only miss Week 1. As certain events began to unfold leading up to the season opener, however, Bell started to contemplate missing more games.
“At first I was literally thinking like, ‘I don’t want to play camp and OTAs’ because of the hurt in my body and I’m like, ‘I’m not playing,'” Bell told Sports Illustrated. “When Week 1 comes, I’m going to come, but the things that kind of led up to Week 1, I started thinking, ‘I’m not going to play Week 1.’ After even Week 1, it started to build up and it’s not making me feel comfortable.”
Bell went on to say that he was prepared to return at the Steelers’ bye, but when his team realized he could still be franchised tagged for the 2019 season once again, he elected to sit out the full year.
Ultimately, he signed with the New York Jets, landing a four-year, $52 million deal with an additional $9 million in incentives. That includes a $27 million signing bonus.
When asked, he recently said he does not regret how he handled 2018.
Le'Veon Bell on regrets on sitting out the year: "The decision I made… I don't regret anything that happened. Who can I say if I played on a franchise tag, if I do get hurt, do I sit hear with the NY Jets with a beautiful deal?"
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 14, 2019
Given James Conner’s success in Bell’s stead, the Steelers are well situated at the position, but with Bell and Antonio Brown gone, the team will look significantly different this fall.