Keidel: 'Underperforming' Le'Veon Bell Hurting Legacy In Favor Of Money

Jason Keidel
December 03, 2019 - 2:44 pm
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Since they left the same team at the same time, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell were branded with the same reputations as “me-first” mercenaries who care way more about paychecks than the playoffs. 

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But Bell didn't break any deals, hold out while under contract, and hasn't acted like a ball of butcher knives since his last year with the Steelers. While Brown has ticked off or traumatized three organizations in one year, jumping from team to team as his conduct becomes more toxic, Bell merely refused to sign the Steelers' franchise tender and sat out a season. 

Though Bell doesn't have Brown's penchant for implosion, he did leave a proud, winning team that drafted and developed him, and did it for one reason: money.

The Jets offered him a richer contract than the Steelers - or anyone else - would. And now you wonder how he feels about the decision. Was it worth swapping cultures for cash? Was the cash worth so much more than the cachet of a winning team with Six Super Bowl Trophies for a team with one? 

The Jets just lost to the bungling Bengals, the only winless (0-11) team left entering the weekend. The Jets 0-3 against Cincinnati since 2013. The Steelers are 13-1 against the Bengals since Dec. 2013. 

The Jets' Le'Veon Bell is tackled by the New England Patriots on Sept. 22, 2019, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Steelers beat the Browns, a team with a talent-lathered roster and serious playoff expectations. While the Jets were supposed to challenge for at least a wild card spot, the Steelers stumbled to a 0-3 start and were playing only for pride. The Jets added all kinds of players to their roster to boost their playoff hopes, yet are 4-8 and are again on schedule to play golf after Christmas. The Steelers have gone 7-2 since their 0-3 start, and have done it without Bell, Brown, and Big Ben Roethlisberger, who snapped his throwing elbow and is gone until 2020. 

Even worse, the Steelers have lost their starting RB James Conner Pro Bowl WR Juju Smith-Schuster, and are somehow winning with duct tape, a duck-caller, and spare parts. 

There's a reason the Jets always find ways to turn prophecy into a self-made purgatory. There's a reason the Steelers win even when they aren't loaded with All-Pro players. There's a reason the Jets have had 17 head coaches since Weeb Ewbank. There's a reason the Steelers have had three over the same period. The Jets have an owner who doubles as an ambassador — his brother fired the GM after free agency and the NFL Draft. All of it presents a picture of instability from the boss to the janitor. 

Meanwhile, the Steelers have been owned by one family for 80 years, the Rooneys, who are all about football, allergic to drama, and a head coach, Mike Tomlin, who embraces the burden of success, rather than runs from it. You don't need stats or sermons to see the difference between the Jets and Steelers. 

But you must wonder what Le'Veon Bell feels right now. Was it worth it? Was this entirely a money grab or did he have some sense the Jets would shed their tattered, loser's skin? Pay is the only part Bell has going for him.

In Pittsburgh, he was a stand-alone star on an iconic team. On the Jets, he's another underperforming import. On the Steelers he reached 8,000 total yards faster than any halfback in history. On the Jets he's gotten at least 20 carries just one time. In Pittsburgh he got at least 20 rushes in 16 of his final 32 games.

Le'Veon Bell
Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Images

In the Meadowlands, Bell plays on a team in the shadow of the Giants, the Manhattan skyline, and in one of the few baseball towns left in America. In Pittsburgh, he was worshiped for his talents.

Does any of that matter to Le'Veon Bell? Former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley isn't too shy to admit he played for paychecks, not Super Bowls. And he conceded there are many such players in pro football. But when players win Super Bowls, they also say that they would not trade theirs in for anything.  

Le'Veon Bell got his money, and hurt his legacy. You just wonder how many NFL players make that decision, and if he's one of them. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel