As seemingly everybody has been made instantly aware, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount have been arrested after admitting to possession of marijuana, which reportedly amounted to 20 grams. Bell, behind the wheel of his Camaro, was also charged with DUI for the incident. The latter was taken to the hospital to have blood drawn. Neither are formally charged yet, but charges are imminent.
Before we jump the gun and try to figure out what all this means within minutes of first hearing about it, it’s worth taking a step back and examining the situation rationally.
Of course, the Steelers have not faced a player dealing with a possession charge since Santonio Holmes in 2008. The league never suspended Holmes for that incident, but the organization personally disciplined him in-house by sitting him for the following game, since the offense occurred in-season.
But Holmes had a longer legal history leading up to that arrest, and because of the timing of the incident, it was seen as a distraction. We probably should not automatically assume that the Steelers will take the same action in this situation.
By that same token, it also seems rather unlikely that they would take the dramatic step of releasing either player, even with Blount’s ‘history’.
The league has desired to strengthen their disciplinary policies when it comes to DUI cases for more than a year. Earlier this offseason, the groundwork for an augmentation for the current policy was in place that would institute a mandatory one-game suspension for first offenders, but it doesn’t appear that this has yet been officially implemented.
According to Pro Football Talk, a first-offense DUI currently would typically result in a two-game fine; on the other hand, possession of marijuana would likely trigger a one-game suspension.
Because this has occurred so close to the beginning of the season, it’s hard to say whether or not the league would even reach a disciplinary decision in time to affect this season, so if either Blount or Bell ultimately receive league-mandated discipline, it may not impact them this year.
On the other hand, the NFLPA could take issue if, for example, the Steelers organization wanted to sit both players for the season opener. It’s hard to say so soon after learning of the situation to try to piece together what the consequences will ultimately be.
Should either Bell or Blount face any missed time on the field due to their actions, it would certainly put the Steelers in a tough spot. The only other running back who is a lock to make the roster is rookie Dri Archer, who is as much a wide receiver.
Fullback Will Johnson will also command a roster spot, but if the Steelers enter the season knowing that one of their running backs will be facing discipline in the form of playing time, whether from the organization or the league, it could force their hand to carry an extra running back.
The running back position is thin as it is, because head coach Mike Tomlin was operating under the assumption that his top two backs would be able to shoulder the load by themselves. As a consequence, the front runners for a third traditional running back spot only include names such as Josh Harris, Tauren Poole, and Miguel Maysonet.
I’m sure the Steelers would much rather carry one of these players on the practice squad rather than on the 53-man roster, but they will have little choice if their top two backs do face swift disciplinary action.