With training camp underway, and the start of the season not far off, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star running back Le’Veon Bell is still a no-show. Bell has been holding out since he and the Steelers failed to reach a new deal before the July 17 deadline.
While star players hold out frequently enough, in this instance, the Steelers would be wise to pay the man as soon as possible.
One could make the argument for this simply by looking at Bell’s numbers. Last season, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards and 7 touchdowns, and caught 75 passes for 616 yards and 2 touchdowns. The urgency to sign him, however, goes beyond his impressive statistics. The main reason the Steelers need him signed is because they are simply a different team with him in the lineup.
The Steelers are dangerous on offense whether Bell plays or not. They have what is arguably the best quarterback-receiver duo in the NFL and are currently awaiting the return of receiver Martavis Bryant, who missed the entirety of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But anyone who has watched the Steelers for the past three seasons has witnessed them, at times, inexplicably struggle on offense. The fact that Bell was either injured or suspended during most of those games is not a coincidence.
Take the 2015 wild-card playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens for example. Going into that game, the Steelers were on a roll. They had won four straight games and were averaging 29 PPG. That night, they scored just 17. Bell had injured his knee in the regular season finale against Cincinnati, and did not play.
For a more recent example, look to last season. Bell was suspended for the first three games. Other than the opener at Washington, the Steelers’ offense was pretty mediocre during those games. When Bell returned in week 4, their offense exploded for 43 points in a rout of Kansas City.
It isn’t so much that Bell alone makes the difference. It’s the combination of having all the Steelers weapons on the field at the same time. Imagine having to cover Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant while also having to worry about Bell rushing or catching passes out of the backfield. Most teams just aren’t good enough to defend against that many weapons. In fact, I’m not sure any team has the defensive personnel and scheme to do that.
It’s not that the Steelers offense struggles whenever Bell is absent from the lineup, it’s that whenever they have struggled, he is usually absent from the lineup. If the Steelers want to have any chance of competing with New England for the AFC title this season, they need their offense to be at full strength. Especially when their defense doesn’t appear capable of controlling the game like Steelers teams of old.
As a lifelong Bengals fan, leaving Bell unsigned would be a fantastic stroke of fortune for their chances to win the Division. But if the Steelers are smart, they will do whatever they can to end Bell’s holdout, and the sooner they do, the better.