Everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, someone, somewhere, is talking about Le’Veon Bell.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, you know the story: Bell wants more money than whatever the Steelers have apparently offered him the last two seasons during contract negotiations and has refused to sign his franchise tag tender or show up for team workouts, and ultimately, the 2018 season thus far.
There were several milestones along the way, all which have passed:
- The final day to negotiate franchise tendered players was July 14th
- Training Camp began July 26th with players reporting the day prior
- The regular season began September 9th
- The Steelers bye week began the week of October 15th
- And the trade deadline was October 30th
The final milestone is a week away, as Bell would have to show up and sign his paperwork in time to play half of the season. The Steelers eighth game is this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, leaving a very short window in time for their ninth game, a Thursday Night Football contest against the Carolina Panthers, for Bell to report. If he fails to do so, he will be ineligible to play in 2018, which opens a whole lot of other scenarios when it comes to his 2019 availability and what the Steelers are able and willing to do in letting the All-Pro running back hit the free agent market.
However, with all of that said, it’s time to stop talking about Le’Veon Bell.
There I said it… and it has to be said because the dead horse has been beaten into vapor. I understand the “pay the man” talks earlier in the process, but those discussions ended in July. I even get the holdout from the preseason. But I’ve been over the Bell holdout since that ball kicked off at First Energy Stadium in Week 1’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe Bell is a great player. Heck, he’s one of the greatest in the game… well, we need to revise to say while in the game because you can’t be a great football player without playing football. And that’s what Bell is right now: just another spectator watching games from the comfort of their living room.
I believe that prospect once scared Steelers fans into believing the 2018 team wouldn’t be the same without Le’Veon, but that’s been far from true in my opinion. Had we known months ago what we know now about James Conner, I don’t think the “pay the man” crowd would’ve been as rabid.
In fact, I believe that crowd is mostly silenced these days, save for the few who don’t understand how the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement works. (i.e. Bell can’t negotiate a new contract until the next league year begins sometime in early 2019.)
I know the talk is going to heat up as we approach this weekend and into next as to whether Bell’s holdout will end. The discussions will hone in on how Bell can or can’t share carries with James Conner, or this thing, that thing with the offense.
Those are fun talks, but it’s nothing but talk at this point. No one knows if Bell will show up and I for one I totally okay if he doesn’t. Had you told me the equivalent of LA Rams RB Todd Gurley would be in Pittsburgh’s backfield in place of Le’Veon Bell this season, I would’ve jumped at the chance to move on from Bell in the first place. I believe the “pay” crowd would too.
The equivalent just so happens to be a surging James Conner who is practically atop the NFL in most statistical categories for his position:
100-Yd Rush Games: 4 (T-1)
2+ Rushing TD Games: 4 (T-1)
Rushes of 20+ Yds: 7 (T-1)
Rushing TDs : 9 (2)
Rushes of 10+ Yds: 19 (2)
Rushing Yds: 599 (3)
Scrimmage Yds: 922 (4)
Rushes for 1st Downs: 30 (4) pic.twitter.com/7CcJGoPcbg
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) October 30, 2018
Aside from those stats, there are a few more that fellow SCU contributor Tommy Jaggi has been banging his James Conner drum for all season.
Le'Veon Bell's 20+ yard runs in 2017 - 3 on 321 carries
James Conner 20+ yard runs in 2018 - 6 on 127 carries #SteelersNation
— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) October 28, 2018
Furthermore, our hopes for James Conner's success has surpassed even our wildest of imagination. Most would've been content with DeAngelo William's production when the former Steeler stood in for Bell during injuries and suspensions. However, it appears that Conner has matched, and in some cases exceeded, what we were entitled to seeing from Bell:
Steven Ridley 2018 - 3.0 ypc, 6.0 ypc
DeAngelo Williams 2016 - 3.5 ypc, 6.6 ypc
Le'Veon Bell 2017 - 4.0 ypc, 7.7 ypc
James Conner 2018 - 4.7 ypc, 10.5 ypc
— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) October 28, 2018
And before we get started with the "Conner isn't being game planned for" argument...
For the crowd that claims defenses aren’t committing to stop #Steelers’ James Conner like other RBs... no one in @NFL has more rushing attempts against a stacked box (8+ defenders) than his 46, and no one has more yards (217) or TDs (6) against a stacked box.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 1, 2018
This week's AFC Offensive Player of the Week dominated the month of October too to earn more honors...
#Steelers RB James Conner named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October
In October, he led the AFC in
Rushing TDs 6
Yds from Scrimmage/Game 175.3
Rushing Yds/Game 122.3
Rushes of 10+ Yds 13
Rushed for at least 100 yards
in each of his 3 October games
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) November 1, 2018
All of which is why I believe its time to starting looking past the Le’Veon Bell era in Pittsburgh. If Bell were a team player he would have reported already. Yes, he wants certain guarantees and on a certain level I can sympathize with his stand.
But this is Week 9. Enough is enough already. We have now seen what the future looks like with Ben Roethlisberger handing the ball off to James Conner. We’ve also witnessed Conner’s ability in the passing game and whether or not he can pickup blocks.
All of the “WR2” talk about paying Bell has also subsided with the emergence of a true “WR2” in JuJu Smith-Schuster: who was (and in some cases still is) statistically ahead of the NFL’s best wide receiver Antonio Brown.
It’s time to stop talking about Le’Veon Bell and start talking about how great James Conner has been, how JuJu and a healthy Vance McDonald are threats in the Steelers offense, and what the team needs to do to win their division and beyond.
Perhaps that beyond will mean “beyond Bell”. We’ll know for certain his decision in a week’s time, which is also my deadline for mentioning his name again during the 2018 season, as this is a team that’s already made these accomplishments by keeping him out of mind and focusing on the task at hand.