There’s a scene in the movie “Heaven Can Wait” in which tycoon Warren Beatty buys the Rams and installs himself as the starting quarterback. In his first practice, the disgruntled offensive linemen let the D-line through untouched, and they repeatedly smash Beatty to the ground.
When and if he reports to the Steelers over the next week, Le’Veon Bell should hope Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro and his Pittsburgh cohorts don’t have similar plans for a welcoming.
Bell, 26, has until Tuesday to show up and sign his franchise tender, or he can’t play this season. He apparently has left Miami and returned to Pittsburgh, to which DeCastro’s reaction was, “It doesn’t matter. Why waste more energy on it?” Coach Mike Tomlin said something similar regarding Bell on Sunday: “We need volunteers, not hostages.”
Talk about awkward if Bell actually does report.
I’m on record as saying this is the most ridiculous holdout I’ve ever seen and a huge misjudgment on the part of Bell and his agent Adisa Bakari. Rather than playing under the one-year, $14.544 million tender (not exactly chump change), Bell decided to forego $855,529 per week by not reporting. After Week 9, the money-lost tally is at $7.7 million.
What has made matters worse for Bell: The longer this has dragged on, the better Steelers running back James Conner has played. And Pittsburgh, 5-2-1 and the leader of the NFC North, is surviving just fine. If Bell reports now, he’ll be an expensive backup to Conner.
Suffice it to say that this holdout has not gone as Bell expected. And his rudest awakening could lie ahead.
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Bell probably will not get the mammoth deal he expects when and if he hits free agency in March. Teams will be wary of his selfishness, his injury history (11 games lost in his career) and his off-field issues (a DUI and marijuana possession case in 2015 that led to a two-game suspension, plus a substance-abuse violation that cost him three games in 2016).
As a former NFL general manager, after all that has transpired with Bell, I know I would look elsewhere if I were seeking a free-agent back. I would be concerned about what happens once Bell gets a long-term deal. Will he be a player who refuses to play through minor aches and pains? Could coaches and teammates ever trust a player who has proved to be so self-absorbed?
Of course, it only takes one team to pay Bell big money, but I highly doubt he’ll see an offer anywhere near Todd Gurley’s $14.375 million-per-year deal with $45 million guaranteed. Bell’s best option could wind up being a one-year, prove-it deal.
After so many miscalculations in this ill-conceived holdout, the worst move Bell could make at this juncture would be to not report to the Steelers at all. Beyond all the money he would give up over the rest of the season (another $6.844 million), he would further demonstrate to the rest of the NFL that his mindset is to avoid injury, which would make his market value decline even more.
If Bell does report, Steelers owner/president Art Rooney, GM Kevin Colbert and Tomlin will not be thrilled to see him walk through the door. And if Bell or his agent gave signals that he was going to report two weeks ago during the team’s bye (as ESPN reported), that would make the Steelers brass extra irritated and feeling they were misled. They would need to rationalize their anger about his absence by figuring they have an expensive insurance policy in case Conner gets hurt.
Rooney, Colbert and Tomlin would watch Bell’s level of effort closely, and if they felt he was not fully engaged or was protecting himself, I wouldn’t be surprised if they suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team.
Bell can rest assured knowing the Steelers will not franchise him again or hit him with a transition tag in March. Too much damage has been done. They’ll say good riddance and hope Bell receives a good enough deal elsewhere in order for Pittsburgh to receive a third-round compensatory draft pick.
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If I were Bell’s agent, I would have advised him to report two weeks before the regular season, try to produce another year of 2,000 yards and then hit free agency as a 27-year-old, highly coveted free agent in 2019. I would have explained why the Steelers would never tag him at a QB number as a three-time franchise player. I would have advised Bell not to alienate the Steelers; they might be the team that makes him the best long-term contract offer.
Instead, Bell’s future looks tenuous. The Steelers won’t want him back, and there’s no way he’ll recoup his lost wages from this season.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on Negotiation and Sports Business/Sports Management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.
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