At this point, Le’Veon Bell has formed a discernibly negative pattern with his employers. The past week’s worth of drama surrounding his exit from the K.C. Chiefs this offseason is only the latest example in what is becoming an increasingly long line of frustrating exits for the veteran running back from NFL franchises.
If you’ve missed the activity of the past week, Le’Veon Bell left a comment on Instagram that featured the following sentiment:
If you have trouble finding the above quote, Bell said he would “never play for Andy Reid again” and that he would retire before doing so. Just like that, it was clear there was a bit of bad blood.
Since that moment, Bell has doubled down on the sentiment while also trying to provide a bit of clarity related to his short stint in K.C. What is clear is that Bell has no ill will in any direction with regards to his abbreviated season with the Chiefs except with a single figure: head coach Andy Reid.
Unless one side or the other chooses to open up further—either with reporters or on social media—then fans are left to read between the lines. The situation is likely about playing time and expectations on the field not being met as hoped. Perhaps Reid made him a promise and failed to deliver. Maybe Bell remains a bit too confident in his own product and feels slighted by the Chiefs’ refusal to play him when it counted most. He was, after all, a healthy scratch in last season’s AFC Championship and Super Bowl LV.
Le’Veon Bell is lying in a bed of his own making at this point.
Either way, other than the occasional Steven Nelson type of player who is happy to get out of Kansas City, it seems as if the vast majority of the league has nothing but the utmost respect for the Chiefs organization and especially so for Reid. Reid’s coaching tree speaks for itself with its vast reach in numerous NFL franchises, and players typically speak glowingly of their time in K.C, and their relationship with the team’s head coach.
In short, this is all a poor reflection on Bell. And this is hardly the first time.
Pittsburgh Steelers, 2017-18
In his latter years with the Steelers, Bell was eyeing a long-term deal and for good reason. Bell was known around the league as perhaps the single-most dynamic running back in the game, a player whose patient running style wreaked havoc on all kinds of defenses—including the Chiefs. He was an incredibly frustrating player for opposing defensive coordinators to stop, a proven well-rounded player with vision, agility, and great hands.
In 2017, Bell was coming off of his second Pro Bowl season in which he averaged 5.6 yards/touch on offense and put together nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage. He skipped training camp only to show up in early September just before the season began for the Steelers. Still the team did not yield and forced him to play on the franchise tag.
Coming in 2018, the Steelers had a financial conundrum to sort out as their high-octane offense was also getting high in costs. The Steelers were clearly enjoying the on-field production from mercurial talents like Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, but to commit to either long-term also meant paying them for their future production as well. In the case of Bell, the Steelers had questions about longevity and decided to extend the franchise tag once again.
Bell was adamantly opposed to playing on what amounted to another single season deal, despite this contract’s worth of $14.54 million. As the season approached, Bell not only sat out training camp once again but he failed to show up when the regular season began. Two full months later, he made it clear he would sit out the entire season. The Steelers also looked ready to move on, past the questions and the drama that took up time with reporters asking Mike Tomlin about the rift.
Bell would never play for the Steelers again.
New York Jets, 2020
When the NFL calendar was ready to turn once again to another new league year, the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to extend the franchise tag to Bell once again. Since he’d not signed his second straight tag from the previous year, the Steelers could have played hardball, but instead decided to divest themselves from the drama.
Three weeks later or so, the New York Jets had signed Bell to a deal worth up to over $50 million with $35M of it in guaranteed money. While there are arguments to be made that Bell was making foolish decisions all along, it was at least some validation for Bell that a team was willing to give him the payday he’d been waiting for all along. Unfortunately the ride would be a very short one for the pairing.
Coming off of a holdout season, Bell hadn’t played any meaningful snaps in well over a year and it was quite clear in his lack of production. Of course, playing for Adam Gase alongside Sam Darnold in the passing game wasn’t going to make it easy for Bell, but he was being paid plenty to move the chains as a featured back. Instead, he managed a pitiful 1,250 yards from scrimmage in 15 games including a 3.2 yards/carry average.
Coming into the following season (2020), Bell began the year with an injury only to “like” a tweet about being traded away from the Jets. Suddenly, a new head coach (Gase) was being forced to answer questions about Bell’s attitude and drama once again. It felt like a repeat all over again.
The Jets decided they were done with him in October, and the Chiefs swooped in with a one-year offer to potentially alleviate all of his concerns. Suddenly he was playing for a creative genius in a high-powered offense and motivated by title chances.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for Bell and the Chiefs. Not only did the team fail to complete their “Run It Back” campaign with a Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Bell was never a part of the offensive picture for the Chiefs, especially when it counted the most. Now at this point, Bell has chosen to once again take issue with the leadership around him and take to social media to explain it all.
Here’s the thing: Bell is not the only one with questions about his usage. It makes very little sense for a team with a first-round running back and a veteran like Bell to go with Darrel Williams in the postseason as heavily as they did. It was also a mystery why Bell was never even given much in the way of regular season opportunities as well. The Chiefs offense was never going to go run-heavy with or without Bell, but his usage certainly raised eyebrows.
That said, at this point, Bell has cried foul so often in every situation that he’s become the issue. If he had any credibility to ever complain about a head coach, it’s long gone at this point given the drama he’s created over the last few years. When a player burns bridges with three consecutive franchises, it’s hard not to view his current status—e.g. unemployed—as a bed of his own making.
Bell is talented enough to likely find one more franchise to give him a chance by the time the 2021 regular season rolls around, but his attitude and lack of production in recent seasons is going to give him a short leash no matter where it is. He has only himself to blame.