Despite the team’s misfortune in recent years with injuries and suspensions, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain one of the most dominant offensive teams in the NFL. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has delivered some stellar performances these past few seasons, especially considering that he was plagued by several injuries in the Steelers’ 2015-16 campaign. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the league, making defensive backs ranging from Eric Weddle to Earl Thomas look silly on the field. Running back Le’Veon Bell has often been touted as one of the most impressive backs in the league, totaling 2,777 yards and 19 touchdowns after just three seasons in the league. Alongside the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, the Steelers are atop Vegas’ odds of likely Super Bowl champions in the 2016-17 season.
Bell, along with Roethlisberger and Brown, has become one of the most valued and loved athletes among the Pittsburgh fan base. He is an instrumental component of this offensively powerful triad, and without Bell, it isn’t nearly as dominant as it has the potential to be.
For the first time since 2014, Bell looked ready to compete for an entire 16-game season. He damaged his MCL in Week 8 of the 2014-15 season, removing him from play for the remainder of the season. The injury put a damper on the team’s 2015-16 playoff hopes, preventing the Steelers from having the success they likely would have experienced with Bell starting for the entirety of the season. Now, the team, and its fans, have a newfound sense of hope.
This optimism, unfortunately, may ultimately be short-lived. Last Friday, ESPN reported that Bell is currently facing a four-game suspension for missing several drug tests. Just last year, Bell encountered another issue with drug abuse when he was suspended for three games for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. Despite the fact that he’s been more ready than ever to contribute to the Steelers’ chances at a seventh Super Bowl title, he has consciously placed his career at risk yet again. In such a pivotal time for the Pittsburgh Steelers, fans, coaches and teammates alike are likely questioning the worth of Bell as a player if his actions are potentially removing him from play even when he’s completely healthy.
Now, in a season where everything was looking up for Pittsburgh, one of the team’s most reliable and dominant players may be sitting on the sideline for four crucial matchups against the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals — easily one of the Steelers’ biggest rivals — Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. While only one of those games is a division matchup, Bell’s absence could still have a significant impact on the potential for the Steelers to start strong in a season where their odds of winning the Super Bowl are higher than ever.
Bell will appeal the suspension and the decision will be made likely before opening day. Like all potential suspensions facing the NFL’s top athletes, the decision will have a huge impact on the beginning of the Steelers’ season. Even though it’s just four games, with the stakes so high, this is the last thing that the franchise needed. How the Steelers will respond to Bell’s actions is unclear at this point, but we’re likely to see a response from the program addressing the fact that Bell’s repeated offenses are having an extremely negative impact on the team.
As such an elite athlete, Bell’s role as one of the most significant offensive weapons on the team will not change. He is still a game changer for the Steelers, and even though his actions have been irresponsible and negatively impactful on his career, his talent is undeniable. However, the frustration felt on the part of Steelers’ fans cannot be ignored.
This season was the year where Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell were all supposed to be completely ready for play. After Roethlisberger’s knee and shoulder injuries, plus Brown’s violent concussion caused by Bengals defensive back Vontaze Burfict’s dirty play, the team was in shambles at the end of last season. Now, it was supposed to be back at full strength. It was supposed to fulfill their potential as a Super Bowl worthy team.
Despite Bell’s integral as one of the most talented Steelers in recent years, I expect to see a wavering sense of loyalty among the Pittsburgh fan base. Right now, they’re asking themselves an important question: How valuable is a player like Bell if he can’t even play in the team’s most urgent time of need?