Le’Veon Bell is holding out.
In other news, the sun is hot, the ocean is made up of water, and hot dogs are not sandwiches.
Bell’s holdout isn’t anything new to us NFL fans. Player’s hold out all the time. Some get paid (this season: Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Junior, Julio Jones, Khalil Mack) and some don’t (Earl Thomas). What we’re not used to seeing is what’s going on right now in Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell is holding out longer than any star in recent history, and his totals in economic loss have hit the all-time top of the ridiculous meter.
However, after missing yet another game in Week 2 against the Chiefs (which raised his game fines to over $1.7 million), Bell didn’t seem too concerned.
The Steeler’s offense, however vocal they may be, don’t seem to be too concerned either. In Week 1, rookie running back and local favorite James Conner carried the ball as good as anyone in the league, handling the rock 31 times for 135 yards and two scores. The 6’1″ 233-pound runner known for his usefulness in between the tackles is also showcasing speed, impressively posting the sixth fastest run in the league so far.
Week 2 however, was a different story. After falling behind quickly, the Steelers had to resort to an air attack, leaving Conner with only 8 opportunities to rush. He did, however, just as he did in Week 1, leave a mark in the passing game, going for five grabs for 57 yards. Conner sits 8th in the league in reception yards for backs after Week 2.
With that being said, Conner still isn’t Le’Veon Bell. Widely regarded by many as the best back in the NFL, Bell is undoubtedly a transcendent talent that would be missed on any roster – even if that team was widely regarded as having one of the best offenses in the league. Bell’s praise comes from hall-of-famers, teammates, and well-respected head coaches alike. Known for his patience and vision, Le’Veon Bell has been nothing short of amazing… when he’s on the field getting paid. Per Pro-Football-Reference, since Bell entered the league in 2013, only Ezekial Elliot has averaged more yards per game on the ground (min. 100 attempts). L. Bell does work in the air too. No active RB is even close to the number of receptions Bell has grabbed since he entered the league: Theo Riddick is a hefty 74 receptions behind. Bell also holds the Steeler’s franchise record for receptions by a back.
So why not pay him? The answer is obvious. Running backs don’t last. They historically have the shortest average NFL career, can sometimes be heavily dependent on the system they run in (see: Demarco Murray, 2015), and as we’ve seen by Pittsburgh, can be easily replaced. The argument for James Conner is good, but we already established that he’s not Le’Veon Bell. Notice how the last stat given was for active backs. Almost everyone from the meat of Bell’s days is now gone. Murray is one of them, Matt Forte another.
But what if I told you that you could replace Le’Veon Bell with something else, and that it would cost you 7% of what he supposedly wants? Well, you can, and that “something” is the two-headed rookie monster of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. So far this season, the two have a higher combined yards per carry than Bell’s career average. The 3rd rounder and undrafted rookie backs have Broncos fans ooh-ing and ahh-ing just as much as they have them sighing of relief. Broncos fans haven’s seen consistency in a running back in a long time. And for a franchise that’s historically used to great backs (i.e. Floyd Little, Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis) coming in and out, Freeman and Lindsay are a breath of fresh air.
Lindsay himself set a record for undrafted rookies after having 100+ yards from scrimmage in his first two career games, including a game-long run of 53 yards. He and Freeman have fans forgetting the once-promising Devante Booker, comparing Lindsay to Terrell Davis, and dubbing Royce Freeman one of John Elway’s best draft picks. (A title which, frankly, isn’t hard to get.)
So that’s five draft picks from from 2016-17 that have been cut by the Broncos in the last two days:
Paxton Lynch, QB (1st rd, 2016)
Carlos Henderson, WR (3rd rd, 2017)
Brendan Langley, CB (3rd rd, 2017)
Isaiah McKenzie, WR (5th rd, 2017)
De’Angelo Henderson, RB (6th rd, 2017)
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) September 2, 2018
Denver seemingly now has taken care of both the present and the future of their offense: something they haven’t felt on offense since Jay Cutler and Ed Hocculi combined to take out Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in 2008. (*Prays to God and Tim Tebow that the future is different this time around*). Father time is undefeated, and the best way to counter him is through youth. These rookies are young, fast, versatile, and flat out fun to watch run. They substitute in and out of games seamlessly – Lindsay taking more of the role as a pass-catcher, Freeman the every-down back. All together, they add to the case for Pittsburgh keeping Bell’s cash to themselves.
As for Bell? He could still be great if he stepped on a field tomorrow. However, so could Josh Gordon. For both, the question that has us all up in arms is longevity. How many more games of greatness does Le’Veon Bell have? Will he cut his career a bit short, like Murray? Or will he run himself into the ground, like Emmit Smith and apparently Adrian Peterson now? Hopefully we get to find out. Hopefully someone goes full ‘Joe Flacco 2013’ and pays Bell more money than any running back deserves in order for us to find out. Because that’s what it’s going to take. And let’s be honest, Le’Veon Bell isn’t budging.
(Video contains NSFW language.)