Did Le’Veon Bell tweet he’s headed back to Pittsburgh?
Has the time finally come? Or is this another false alarm?
A message posted to the verified Twitter account for AWOL Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell read “Fairwell (sic) Miami” with an emoji of a waving hand.
Bell has been residing in South Florida throughout the season since he declined to sign the $14.5 million franchise-player tag the Steelers placed on him in the spring. Bell has been forfeiting $855,000 per week throughout the season, meaning he has missed out on approximately $7.7 million in salary.
Seeking a long-term deal with more guaranteed money, Bell did not sign the tender, and the sides could not come to terms on an extension before a league-mandated July deadline. Like last season, Bell sat out offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason. Unlike 2017, though, Bell’s absence from the team extended into the regular season.
Bell made $12.5 million on the franchise tag last season.
The final of a series of benchmark dates for Bell to report comes Nov. 13. If Bell does not report to the Steelers by then, he cannot play in 2018. Despite reports and widespread conjecture each time, Bell did not sign the franchise tag the week prior to the season opener, during the Steelers’ bye week, in the days after the bye or after last week’s NFL trade deadline.
The Steelers, through a spokesman, repeatedly have declined to comment on reports involving Bell’s anticipated arrival. Coach Mike Tomlin was not asked about Bell during his weekly news conference early Monday afternoon, about three hours before Bell’s tweet appeared.
Before Sunday’s win in Baltimore, Tomlin told CBS, “We hadn’t spent a lot of time focused on (Bell’s decision to stay away from the team) because it’s not in our control. Those decisions are Le’Veon’s. We need volunteers, not hostages.”
Asked during his weekly 93.7 FM radio show if he had heard from Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, “Nothing.”
Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The emergence of James Conner complicates a potential Bell return. In Bell’s stead, the former Pitt star is second in the NFL in rushing yards (706) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (10).
Conner has at least 100 rushing yards, at least four receptions and at least one touchdown in each of the past four games -- all wins -- for the Steelers (5-2-1), who are in first place in the AFC North. Conner has 474 rushing yards, 689 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in that span, numbers that helped him earn AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors for October.
Conner also became the first player in team history to have 10 touchdowns over the first eight games of a season. His 1,085 yards from scrimmage rank second in the NFL to the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley and are the second most in Steelers history after eight games, trailing, by 1 yard, what Bell had midway through the 2016 season.
Pro Football Focus rates Conner as the 12th-highest graded running back in the NFL this season. It had Bell at 16th last season.
But Bell was one of the NFL’s best players between his rookie 2013 season and last year, leading the NFL in scrimmage yards in that time and tying Eric Dickerson as the fastest player in league history to 7,000 scrimmage yards (55 games).