First, let’s start this post by saying, LeVeon Bell is one of the most talented backs in the league and has consistently proved it when he’s touched the field. At no point in writing this article am I making this case from a point that I believe Bell is not a top RB in the league every Sunday he is on the field. However, over the years we have seen that letting the best RB walk away does not necessarily mean a decline in production for the team. A recent example would be AP and the Vikings. It wasn’t an instant turn, but the Vikings weren’t exactly incapable of rushing after AP left. Teams have to get more creative or have a quality replacement in waiting. In the case of the Steelers, I am going to make the case why the Steelers already have the pieces to lose Bell and not lose production overall.
Case 1 is DeAngelo Williams. In 2015 at 32, DeAngelo Williams carried the load for the Steelers starting 10 of the 16 games that season. Williams at 32 is obviously less dynamic
than a young healthy Bell (explaining why he maybe received 5 carries in any game Bell was healthy). However, when he was called upon Williams put up great stats (pictured below). Not only did his stats look good, but when you watched the Steelers play, the rushing offense did not look to lose a beat. The passing game on the other hand wasn’t quite the same. Williams couldn’t replace that dynamic and it would come back to haunt them against Denver in the playoffs. Honestly speaking though, its not like anyone else was getting much against that defense either. Overall, the offense was still just as productive with Williams as they were with Bell even if a little less dynamic.
Today, they do not have Williams, but who they do have is James Conner. People in the Pittsburgh area should already be more than familiar with James Conner. He went to college at Pittsburgh, and battled/overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma his Jr season to continue his career now into the NFL. If you haven’t seen his interview on his battle with cancer, you should definitely watch it.
Similar to Williams, Conner averaged 4.5/car on 32 rushes as a rookie, and showed the same patience he was known for at Pitt where he averaged over 5/car for his career.
He can be elusive in the backfield and a mean stiff arm
He shows the burst in the hole
He can catch as well
Add this onto the fact he is already a beloved hometown player who is humble enough to realize the work he has left to prove.
Owners take notice to things like jersey sells and fan reception. They also take notice to the fact they have quality OL as well. In this case, holding out and demanding top $$$ is hurting Bell’s chances of getting it with the Steelers. In the Steelers mind, they may look at it as they already have someone in house who can take the load if Bell doesn’t work out. No one is Leveon Bell, but the league has shown that very rarely is a guy for a powerhouse team not expendable.
This is also a risk for Bell and will be interesting next offseason to see how others teams will value Bell’s services. Do other NFL owners think Bell is worth the 16-18mil he is trying to command? If owners hold, this could backfire on Bell where he ends up in a less favorable situation than Pittsburgh. As he looks to reshape the running back market, the Steelers could now view him as expendable in the grand scheme, even if his talents are above those around him.