The Steelers won their season opener last week, something teams like the Patriots, Seahawks and Bengals could not do, and also managed to avoid significant player injury — unlike the Cardinals with star running back David Johnson or the Ravens with Danny Woodhead. Things went so well for Pittsburgh that the team was moved up to No. 1 in the ESPN power rankings, so things are looking great.
On the other hand, the Steelers barely beat the Cleveland Browns, the highly-touted offense was a dud against the NFL’s equivalent of a Triple-A team and power rankings mean absolutely nothing, a fact proven by the Steelers being No. 1 after that abysmal performance.
Yes, there may be nothing more Steeler Fan than being critical after a win. Beat the Browns? They should have won by more. Win the Super Bowl? Impressive, but they’re not nearly as good as [Steelers team from olden times]. But instead of debating whether this 2017 Steelers team is currently the NFL’s best or completely terrible — there will be plenty of time for that — let us instead focus on one specific Steeler, Le’Veon Bell, and debate whether he is the NFL’s best back, a generational talent, or a hugely overrated player who could be replaced by almost anyone with legs.
Today’s debate will be between me … and also me.
Le’Veon Bell is overrated
Sunday was the latest evidence that Bell is the most overhyped player in the NFL. After holding out all of training camp because he thinks he deserves to be paid star running back AND star receiver money, combined, in a long-term deal, Bell put up numbers you might see from a guy on a one-year fullback contract. Ten carries for 32 yards and three receptions for 15 yards. Against the Browns. THE BROWNS.
Of course, in fairness, that was just one game. Bell was probably rusty or whatever. He has proven he can put up big numbers regularly. For example, in the last two years, he averaged well over 100 yards from scrimmage in every game he started, including 143 yards rushing and two touchdowns in last year’s opener.
Wait, no. I’m sorry. I was looking at De’Angelo Williams’ numbers. Your remember De’Angelo Williams, right? The 30-something running back the Steelers got off the scrap heap from the Carolina Panthers? The guy who always put up near peak-Le’Veon numbers whenever forced into action by another Bell injury or suspension? Yeah. Him.
Yet after producing such big numbers for the Steelers, Williams can’t even get a job this year in the NFL. When a guy who can give you close to what Bell does can’t even get a veteran minimum contract, it’s lunacy to think Bell deserves a deal that would be an NFL record for a running back.
Facts are facts: Le’Veon Bell is a system running back. Put almost anyone in the backfield with Ben Roethlisberger, behind one of the NFL’s best lines and with Antonio Brown and friends stretching the field, and gaudy RB numbers are sure to come. You don’t pay an easily replaceable player a $100 million dollars. Ask the Ravens. And you especially don’t pay $100 million to a player who, in four NFL seasons, hasn’t made it through one year without getting injured or suspended. Do you really think Bell will get MORE durable as he ages? At the running back position (or whatever hybrid position Bell believe he plays)? Not a chance. I’m laughing. You have made me laugh.
By the way, do you think Bill Belichick would pay Bell a mega-contract? Belichick pulls random fans out of the stands to start at running back for the Patriots each week and New England just keeps churning along, winning Super Bowls. Running backs are easily replaced, even the supposedly best running backs. This is not even a debate. Let Bell play out this season on his franchise tag. If he starts piling up numbers again — and don’t expect it to happen this week against a tough Vikings defense that shut down the New Orleans run game on Monday night — then bring him back next year on the one-year franchise tender again. Keep him in Pittsburgh for his prime years as cheaply as possible. But after that? With six years on his legs and in his late twenties? Farewell. Thank you for your service. Good luck with your rap career and finishing out your NFL years with whatever franchise is dumb enough to give you the biggest deal in free agency (the Jets).
Le’Veon Bell is a generational talent
Well, reading that just made me significantly dumber. In fact, whoever wrote that should be fired immediately. But first he must finish writing these next few paragraphs.
Where to even start with all of these strawmen that will be even easier to knock down than Ben Roethlisberger?
First of all, Le’Veon Bell is not some easily replaced back. In Bell’s first four years in the NFL, he has averaged more yards from scrimmage per game than any other running back in history. More than Walter Payton. More than Barry Sanders. More than Jim Brown. More than everyone. Yes, even more than De’Angelo Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Bell is not just a generational talent, he is a multi-generational talent. And you may have noticed that the Steelers have not faired too well in the playoffs the last three years when Bell has either not played or been knocked out of action. Before the Steelers even think about moving on from the best running back in football, a guy who is only 25-years old, maybe they should actually see how the team does with him for an entire playoff run.
And the fact that Williams is not currently employed by a football team is not an argument against Bell. It’s an argument that people who know football — i.e. not the idiot who wrote the part above — know that Williams is not close to the player that Bell is. Unless you really think Le’Veon Bell would not get any contract offers if he was on the free market. Yes, you can get production from other backs in the Steelers system. But there is only one Le’Veon Bell.
And the Belichick argument is idiotic. Belichick pays for players who are worth it. He’s simply never had a back that’s even half as good as Bell, hence he filters through random RBs every season. The Patriots pay for top-tier talent. That’s why they don’t let Tom Brady walk away as a free agent. With Roethlisberger’s career winding down, that’s even more of a reason to lock up Bell long-term. Good luck to the Steelers winning games in the future with a rando at quarterback and RB1.
Bell is the best running back in football and he will prove it to everyone this season, including the idiot who wrote half (all) of this column.