New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell opened up about his final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas.
Bell, who will appear on this week's SI's cover, said that he wasn't originally intending on sitting out the entire 2018 season.
"Ultimately, I wanted to get a long-term contract," Bell said. "And, be happy and go somewhere where I feel valued and get guaranteed security over the course of my contract of playing football."
I was a fan growing up of the Jets because one of my favorite players was running back Curtis Martin, I feel like the stars kind of aligned and everything worked out for a reason
Bell said his goal was to sit out during training camp and miss the team's Week 1 game against the Browns. It was only after Bell realized that he could miss the entire season and still be franchise tagged by the Steelers that he decided not to return. Bell forfeited eligibility to play after choosing not to sign a franchise tender ahead of a Nov. 13 deadline.
Bell says that his relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a factor in him moving on from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is,” Bell says. 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. (head coach Mike) Tomlin wants to win. Ben wants to win—but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with. 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.”
Bell said he almost returned to Pittsburgh for the 2019 season.
“I was so close,” Bell admits now. “Like, I almost [signed] it.”
The two-time first–team All-Pro 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.
“Receivers make [roughly] $19 million per year—why can’t I make 17?” Bell asks. “The fact that I put that number out there, that opened it up for Todd (Gurley). 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.”
Bell 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.
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