We know how much longer Le'Veon Bell is going to be the bad guy for failing to suit up on Sunday because of an expiring contract he feels undervalues him over the long haul. The NFL's biggest name to hold out this season informed ESPN he plans to play this year, and a source says Steelers fans can expect to see him right after Pittsburgh's bye week, when the Browns are in town Oct. 28.
"It sucks having to sit out football," Bell told ESPN on Monday. "I want to play. I want to win games and the playoffs. But I've gotta take this stand. Knowing my worth and knowing I can tear a ligament or get surgery at any time, I knew I couldn't play 16 games with 400 or more touches."
The team has already explored trade offers for their running back, who is missing out on $855,000 per week after the Steelers put the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive year in March. Bell felt the risk for injury was too great—see also, bird-flipping safety Earl Thomas—and decided he'd rather forfeit that money than risk an injury that would endanger his free agency in March.
The team offered him $70 million over the offseason in an extension, but only $17 million was guaranteed, which was substantially less than the guaranteed money David Johnson and Todd Gurley got (between $31 million and $45 million). Bell's 129.8 yards per game average through his first five seasons is the highest in the league during that timeframe, and the all-pro thought the discrepancy in guaranteed money was enough to warrant the hold out, despite what it's cost him.
His decision to hold out has pissed off teammates, but Bell says he understands why and hopes they appreciate why he's holding out. "They probably think I backdoored them," he told ESPN. "But I think they understand the decision. At the end of the day, they said what they said in the media. I'm not really too upset about it. It was a little disappointing, but I understand their side. When I talk to them, I hope they get that side of it."
Bell also says he's now saddled with a selfish persona because of how much money he's turning down for the guarantee. "It's costing me some fans," Bell said. "A lot of people call me selfish but I'm really not. I'm doing it for guys behind me or guys who don't understand what's going on in the business of football. The 22 years I've been playing football, I've always brought value. I don't think the Steelers valued me as much."
Le'Veon listed the Jets, 49ers, Colts, Browns, and Eagles as teams with an interest in him, but despite all that's happened, he still remains hopeful the Steelers re-sign him and he finishes his career in Pittsburgh like he originally planned. "I could be naive or hopeful, he told ESPN on Monday, "but at the end of the day I feel like that's what's going to happen. I don't think they really want me gone. That could be me being prideful. But I'm still holding out hope."
Steelers fans can at least look to the last game in October as a likely return date. Anything beyond this season is a toss-up, though, and the idea of him returning to the Steelers as a free agent looks increasingly unlikely.