With Le’Veon Bell New York-bound, the running back opened up about his fallout with Pittsburgh, sitting out the entire 2018 season and his decision to sign with the Jets in free agency.
During a lengthy interview with Sports Illustrated, Bell admitted he originally planned to return to the Steelers after Week 1. He said his initial intentions were to just sit out the team’s training camp, OTAs and the first week of the season in order to limit the mileage on his body. But when he didn’t report, his teammates spoke out publicly against him, which Bell believed hurt his negotiations for a long-term contract.
He then decided he would “bite the bullet” and come back after the bye week. However, when he learned the Steelers could still franchise tag him even if he sat out the whole season, he said his reaction was: “If I don’t gotta come back, then I’m not going to come back.”
— SI TV (@watch_SITV) March 19, 2019
“I felt like: For me to get my full potential and be the player I know I can be, I gotta go play with different players,” Bell explained. “I gotta go play with people who want to see me succeed, who want me to be great. Getting a fresh start, (that’s) the best thing for me.”
Bell detailed his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and indicated the veteran quarterback played a “factor” as to why he left Pittsburgh, calling Roethlisberger “tough to play with.”
“Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is,” Bell told SI. “(But) you’re still a teammate at the end of the day. You’re not Kevin Colbert. You’re not (team president Art) Rooney.
“The organization wants to win. Tomlin wants to win. Ben wants to win — but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with,” Bell said. “Ben won a Super Bowl, but he won when he was younger. Now he’s at this stage where he tries to control everything, and (the team) let him get there.”
He added: “So if I’m mad at a player and I’m not throwing him the ball — if I’m not throwing A.B. (Antonio Brown) the ball and I’m giving JuJu (Smith-Schuster) all the shine or Jesse (James) or Vance (McDonald) or whoever it is, and you know consciously you’re making your other receiver mad but you don’t care — it’s hard to win that way.”
The 27-year-old running back signed a four-year deal worth $52.5 million earlier this month. The deal has a max value of $61 million and includes $35 million guaranteed. If he stayed with the Steelers, he could’ve signed a $14.5 million tag. When discussing the details of his deal with the Jets, Bell said, “How didn’t I win?”
“Receivers make [roughly] $19 million per year — why can’t I make 17?” Bell said. “The fact that I put that number out there, that opened it up for Todd. So when Zeke (Elliott) comes up, or Saquon (Barkley), if they’re the best running back they’re gonna beat Todd’s deal. I (took) the bullet. (We) can’t sit here just taking what y’all (offer). It’s gonna go: 15, then 16. … Then at some point it’s gonna stop and 10, 12 years from now there’s going to have to be another Le’Veon Bell who’s gonna take a stand.”