Becker: Steelers fans should move on
Courtney Becker | Thursday, September 7, 2017
During The Observer’s fantasy football draft last week I drafted Arizona running back David Johnson second overall. The only reason I didn’t take Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell is because our Editor-in-Chief, Ben Padanilam, took him first.
The reason Bell is such a valuable asset on a fantasy football team is not only because he is arguably the best running back in the NFL, but also because he is also arguably the heart of the Steelers’ offense.
For anyone who would argue quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or wide receiver Antonio Brown is more valuable to the Pittsburgh offense, hear me out. In just 12 games during the 2016 season, Bell racked up 1,268 rushing yards on 261 carries, averaging over 100 yards and over 20 carries a game. For some context, DeAngelo Williams, who finished the season second behind Bell, amassed 343 total rushing yards. In addition, Bell finished his shortened season as the Steelers’ second-leading receiver with 616 yards, behind only Brown — who, for the record, went fifth overall in our fantasy draft. He was also named the team’s most valuable player.
These numbers should be enough to ensure Steelers nation is always behind Bell, but if you believe the comments sections of many articles and Facebook posts, that’s not the case right now.
Let me make one thing very clear: I am a huge Steelers fan. There is both a Terrible Towel and a sizeable “You’re in Steelers Country” banner hanging on the wall of my dorm room. I am a card-carrying member of Steelers nation, and it needs to move on.
This past Monday, Bell signed a one-year, $12.1 million franchise tender with the Steelers after a months-long holdout that lasted through training camp and the preseason, as he officially reported to the team on Sept. 1. Bell chose to hold out rather than accepting a reportedly five-year, $60 million offer from the Steelers, and fans were quick to criticize him for his decision. Even players and coaches expressed their discomfort with Bell’s absence, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Bell wasn’t “doing himself any favors.”
Bell knows the offer from the Steelers was purely a typical business move, but considering he is the number one running back and number two receiver on the team, he wants to be paid as such. Whether or not that’s reasonable is up for debate — after all, the Steelers have a franchise cap to adhere to. Bell missed four games last season due to a suspension that came as a result of his own decisions, and one could still make a solid argument for Roethlisberger being the more crucial player.
What’s undeniable, however, is that Bell never had any intention of walking away from the Steelers long-term or returning in anything less than peak condition. While Bell was away from the Steelers, he worked out with a top-tier footwork coach, continued to work on team days off and repeatedly assured his teammates and fans that he would return before the Steelers’ week one matchup against the Browns.
Bell has made good on that promise, and most likely remains one of — if not the — top running backs in the NFL. His hesitation style of running is not only exciting to watch, but also has yet to be perfected by other franchise running backs in the NFL. Plus, as Bell pointed out after his holdout ended, the fear of injury for a player who has already been injured during on training camp and missed 10 games two seasons ago due to injury is very real. So why are Steelers fans holding Bell’s holdout against him?
In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published Aug. 23, an expert argued that one of Bell’s greatest challenges this season will be to regain fan approval of him after it “plummeted” over the offseason. Steelers fans, a group that takes great pride in the loyalty of past franchise players such as Hines Ward who chose to retire as Steelers rather than continue their careers elsewhere, seem to forget about other past players such as Jack Lambert, Rod Woodson and Franco Harris who held out. This might all be forgotten as soon as Bell chalks up his first 100-yard game of the season — most likely during week one in Cleveland — but the fact that it’s still an issue is frankly ridiculous.
Bell will most likely be a major asset to the Steelers this season, and rather than be bitter about the holdout, Steelers fans should accept Bell’s decision over the offseason, be grateful he’s back and move on. As Bell said in an Instagram post following his second practice Tuesday, “it’s just time to move on [and] play football.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.