One thing has become pretty obvious about the bizarre holdout of Le’Veon Bell, and the resulting impact on the Steelers’ season: It’s not having much of an effect on the team he hoped would miss him terribly.
The easy thing to say about Bell’s decision to stay away from the team through the first nine weeks of the season is that he’s preserving himself for his run at free agency in 2019, when he will be a 27-year-old player in search of the biggest contract an NFL running back has ever received. Some team may well pay him handsomely. But the Steelers so far have saved more than $7 million (Bell’s missed pay: $7.68 million; James Conner’s entire salary this year; $578,000) by Bell not being on the team.
Through eight games—half a season—since Bell entered the league in 2013, the relative production of Conner versus Bell is just about a wash. There is one asterisk, as noted on Bell’s 2016 and 2013 totals. He was suspended for the first three games in 2016 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy; in 2013, he missed the first three games of the seasons with a mid-foot sprain. In each season, I chose to use the totals from his first eight games of the season (games four through 11).
Conner, 2018 189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 TD.
Bell, 2017 229 touches, 979 yards, 4.28 yards per touch, 5 TD.
Bell, 2016 208 touches, 1,136 yards, 5.46 yards per touch, 4 TD.*
Bell, 2015 Active for only six games.
Bell, 2014 183 touches, 1,086 yards, 5.93 yards per touch, 2 TDs.
Bell, 2013 169 touches, 711 yards, 4.21 yards per rush, 4 TDs*
On average, Bell’s first eight games of the four seasons: 197 touches, 978 yards, 4.96 yards per touch, 3.8 touchdowns.
Conner’s first eight games this season: 189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 touchdowns.
In essence, Bell has gambled $7.68 million to prove his worth. Other than keeping him fresher for free agency in 2019, which is certainly part of this, Bell has lost his gamble.
Editor’s Note: Read the rest of Football Morning in America here.