At the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 14 game against the Buffalo Bills, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s 298 total yards was more than the amount of yardage that the entire Bills’ offense ended the day with. Bell’s game in Buffalo was just the latest impressive performance that the running back as put on the field since he began his career with Pittsburgh in 2013.
Currently in the last year of his four-year contact, Bell is set to be a free-agent after the 2016 season. Wherever he ends up signing, the running back is in line for a gigantic payday.
The logical choice for the Steelers would be to do everything they can to keep Bell in Pittsburgh. But that may not actually be the best choice for the franchise.
In his four seasons with the Steelers, Bell has missed a total of 16 games. Six were due to a suspension while the other 10 absences were injury related. With the running back in the lineup, Pittsburgh has a 28-17 record.
Injuries are common in the league and a part of the game, so the Steelers’ biggest worry when it comes to Bell should be his two drug-related suspensions.
His first suspension was the result of an arrest for DUI and marijuana possession in the summer of 2014 and it resulted in Bell missing the first three games of the 2015 season. This year, he was out for Pittsburgh’s first three weeks during the regular season as a result of a missed drug test back in December 2015.
If he ends up getting suspended again by the league, it will likely be much longer than just three games since he is a multiple offender. With Pittsburgh already without the services of wide receiver Martavis Bryant for all of 2016 due to a drug-related suspension, the franchise cannot afford to lose another talented player like Bell to a long suspension.
It may seem crazy, but the best option for the Steelers after this season may be to let their talented running back go and sign a deal with another team. A scenario in which Pittsburgh signs Bell to a monster contract and then he ends up missing half of a season due to another suspension is unfortunately not out of the realm of possibility.
In the Steelers case, the risk of paying Bell a ton of money may not be worth the potential reward that the running back could provide them with.
The crop of running backs that will be available in the upcoming NFL Draft makes the idea of Pittsburgh letting Bell walk even more intriguing for the franchise. As soon as next year, the Steelers could already have a new running back that is capable of leading the franchise to great heights.
Obviously, it would still come as a shock if Pittsburgh actually did let Bell go sign elsewhere this offseason. But for the franchise, it seems like a choice that they may have to make.