For Whom Bell Tolls
"Right now, it's hard to imagine the Steelers are ready to pay Bell, a 2017 free agent, as a top-shelf back." - Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
I am a big fan of Le'Veon Bell. I love his talent and potential. After a slow start as a rookie during the 2013 season, he was by far and away the No. 1 running back in 2014. Last season should have been a continuation.
Prior to the 2015 season, even knowing he faced a possible three-game suspension, Bell was the No. 1 player in fantasy. I traded for him in a Dynasty league and took him in several re-draft leagues. And after sitting out his two-game suspension, he was great -- right up until the point when he got injured and was forced to miss the rest of the season.
But supposedly healthy, hope was high that Bell would return to that league-leading form in 2016. Prior to Friday, he was the consensus No. 1 back in fantasy rankings. And I doubled down, taking him in even more leagues.
Then came word Friday that Bell faces a four game suspension for missing a drug test. This would be a second offense, and leave him one step away from a year-long suspension. That means Bell, for all his talent, is headed down a bad road.
We've seen this before. In 2013, Josh Gordon was, perhaps, the best receiver in the NFL down the stretch. But to start the 2014 season, Gordon was suspended for 10 games. When he returned, he wasn't the same player. He looked pedestrian in his five games played before getting shut down for the season. Then, prior to the 2015 season, Gordon failed another test, earning a year-long suspension. He still hasn't been reinstated. What once looked like, potentially, the best receiver in the NFL now looks like a missed opportunity.
The Steelers, too, are no strangers to seeing talent squandered by off the field behavior. Martavis Bryant, a Steelers' receiver, has shown flashes of being one of the best weapons in the NFL. But he, too, struggles to stay on the field. In fact, he'll miss the entire 2016 season thanks to another failed drug test.
So what are we to make of Bell? Yes, he'll likely miss four games, but he can still have a tremendous impact on the field. And, for the Steelers, he could propel them toward a Super Bowl berth. They have the pieces, and when he's on the field he makes their offense nearly unstoppable.
But can he stay on the field? This is a contract year for Bell, and an important season prior to what could be a big pay day. His performance has him in line to be among the highest paid running backs in the game. But he's a risk thanks to his injury history and run ins with the NFL. It will be interesting to see which prevails following this make-or-break season.