Le’Veon Bell is back with the Pittsburgh Steelers after holding out of all of preseason and is ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
After failed contract negotiations, Bell will play this season on the one-year, $US12 million franchise tag.
While it was assumed that Bell held out of training camp for more money and more guarantees on a contract — the Steelers reportedly offered Bell a deal averaging $US12 million per season, worth $US42 million over three years — Bell said he had another reason for holding out: his health.
Bell told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he didn’t want to risk getting hurt in preseason going into a contract year:
“I wanted to make sure I was prepared and fresh for the season. I don’t want to go out there and jeopardize myself getting hurt in camp. Obviously I understand I’m on a one-year deal, so I have to go out there and prepare and play football … My rookie year I got hurt in camp, so I didn’t even want to deal with it. I wanted to get ready for Game 1, the games that count and go out there and try to win a Super Bowl.”
Interestingly, Bell’s precaution about getting hurt in camp comes in the same offseason that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin boasted about the Steelers’ physicality in camps.
Tomlin told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that the Steelers are one of the few teams that hit in camp because he believes it better prepares them for the regular season:
“Preparing to play without the physical part is like asking a boxer to go in and fight without sparring. There is a certain hardening that has to happen to your group individually and collectively, I believe, through this process. I believe live tackling not only aids in that, but is kind of central to that. That’s why we made the conscious effort to have at least 12 to 15 snaps a day of live football.”
“I think there is probably a propensity for increased injury in the stadium if you haven’t done this. So from that perspective, I am willing to present an argument that one approach is not any more safe.”
This isn’t to say that Bell held out specifically because of the Steelers’ tendency to hit in camp, but it’s worth wondering how many other Steelers players worry about their health during these live-hitting practices.
“Football is more than just a sport,” Bell told Fowler. “There’s a business behind it.”
Of course, as King noted, the Steelers and Seahawks (another team that hits in camp) have been two of the most successful teams in the NFL in the last decade. Perhaps there is merit to the madness.
Still, holdouts in training camp and preseason are not uncommon. While they are almost always about money, perhaps a portion of NFL players also just want to protect their bodies going into the real games.
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