New Jets running back Le'Veon Bell wasn't initially planning on sitting out the entirety of the 2018 season.
In a new exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated, the former Steeler told staff writer Jenny Vrentas that his original goal was to only miss Week 1. As certain events began to unfold leading up to the season opener, however, Bell started to contemplate missing more games.
"At first I was literally thinking like, 'I don't want to play camp and OTAs' because of the hurt in my body and I'm like, 'I'm not playing,'" Bell told Sports Illustrated. "When Week 1 comes, I'm going to come, but the things that kind of led up to Week 1, I started thinking, 'I'm not going to play Week 1.' After even Week 1, it started to build up and it's not making me feel comfortable."
Bell said he couldn't recall specifically what kept him from returning early on in the season. By the Steelers' bye week, Bell said he was ready to return "regardless of what they say." When Bell realized that he could miss the entire season and still be franchise tagged by the Steelers, he decided not to return.
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets on March 13. The deal has a max value of $61 million and includes $35 million guaranteed.
The former Steelers tailback sat out the entire 2018 campaign after holding out for a new contract. Pittsburgh had franchise-tagged Bell for a second consecutive year, a move that would have paid Bell $14.5 million last year. Bell forfeited eligibility to play after choosing not to sign a franchise tender ahead of a Nov. 13 deadline.
Bell, a two-time All-Pro, last played in 2017, when he rushed for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. He also recorded 85 catches for 655 yards and two scores.
Among active players, Bell is currently third in career rushing yards per game (86.1). His 137.5 yards from scrimmage per game since 2014 ranks as the most in the NFL.
The full interview will be released on Wednesday morning. Bell is also featured on the cover of this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.