The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to say things in the vein of “we will work with who’s available to us”. The phrase comes up because they keep getting asked questions about one player in particular who remains very much not with them: fifth-year running back Le’Veon Bell.
The two-time All-Pro was given the franchise tag this year, but has not yet signed it. His representatives and the Steelers’ front office, despite last-minute negotiations, were unable to complete a long-term deal by the July 17 deadline, after which players under the tag can no longer negotiate long-term contracts for that season.
Speaking yesterday to ESPN, General Manager Kevin Colbert did say that he expects Bell “to be a significant contributor for the 2017 Steelers”, adding, “that’s as simple as I can state it”. Still, he and the organization continue to be less than thrilled about his absence to date from training camp.
Considering that there are just two practices remaining before the Steelers break camp in Latrobe and return to their practice facilities back in Pittsburgh, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Bell is going to show up “for training camp”, but there is hope that his intention is to report soon after that.
Should he report early next week, that will give him a few weeks’ worth of preparation for the regular season, as well as give him the opportunity to participate in the third preseason game, which is regarded as the warm-up for the regular season, when all or nearly all starters play.
The Steelers will take it, but they will remain disappointed that Bell did not show, and they have been perhaps uncharacteristically, vocal about it. Both Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have previously spoken pretty directly about the situation since training camp has opened, and Colbert reiterated his and the team’s position to Jeremy Fowler yesterday.
“It’s beneficial for everybody to be in camp”, he told the ESPN reporter. “I’ll argue that consistently. Training camp is important for the growth and preparedness to be ready to play this game opening week”.
The general manager added, “we can argue about camp and preseason, how many games and all that, but I do know you need to practice this game to play it at the highest level. Someone once said it would be like boxing without sparring. You can’t just show up and play”.
Bell has been working out and training on his own, but even he knows that there is no simulation for carrying the football versus live opponents outside of actually doing so. Even Ben Roethlisberger said “you can’t simulate game shape on your own”.
While his teammates may understand his situation and have lightheartedly ribbed him for not signing his more than $12 million tender to date, I do get the sense that they are all ready to see this thing over with. Hopefully that will come next week.