BENZ: Le'Veon Bell's agent leads him down perilous path with Pittsburgh Steelers

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)

Le'Veon Bell plays hard, practices intently and performs well.

During interviews, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back comes off as engaged and personable.

Running back Le'Veon Bell is in a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. AP FILE PHOTO

Yet between his financial demands, drug suspensions and social media activity, Bell somehow has turned himself from an athletic hero into a stunningly easy target of fan scorn.

On the financial front, the easy thing to do is blame his agent, Adisa Bakari, for Bell's current absence from the team.

For at least a moment, let's rationalize this away by saying Bell is a good kid who is getting bad advice from a greedy representative looking for his cut.

"The more Le'Veon gets, the more (the agent) gets," Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster said.

Foster's right. That's the business model. But who cares. Let's blame Bakari anyway.

"If it's his agent then, hell, I wouldn't sign with him," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said.

Many NFL players may disagree with that. They might like an agent who strives to get a client every penny. But what if that agent leads a client down a path where that player sacrifices on-field accomplishments for dollars in a potential Super Bowl season?

Or into contractual gridlock? Or into a position of higher risk than potential reward?

Because you could argue Bakari is doing all of those things to Bell.

Reversing course: Bell said in March that the plan was to play the whole 2018 season despite receiving the franchise tag from the Steelers. Bakari echoed that in July after the franchise tag became official because the goal was to see Bell have the best season of his career heading into free agency.

Note that "barring something exceptional" line.

Bakari said on SiriusXM on Wednesday that "something exceptional had happened."

Yeah. I'd love to know what that was, too.

Most assume what happened was that another running back, Los Angeles' Todd Gurley, received $45 million guaranteed a week after Bell officially got the tag. The Rams also gave Aaron Donald $86 million guaranteed. Khalil Mack got $90 million guaranteed after his trade to the Bears.

Indeed. That's exceptional stuff.

Questions: So does this mean Bell is now adding "highest-paid defensive player" to his resume as well as "highest-paid running back and wide receiver" in an effort to exceed Donald and Mack?

And if Bell needed to perform well back then to earn big money, how is he suddenly aided by sitting?

It also was widely believed Bakari planned to get a dollar amount close to that $45 million figure in free agency for his client before Gurley got it anyway.

What's the difference now?

What's Bakari intimating there? That on July 17 he was telling Bell to report on the tag and risk playing despite the $33 million the Steelers had reportedly offered, but because Gurley got to the $45 million mark first, suddenly the risk wasn't worth it?

Bell still needs to report for at least six games this season. If Bakari's goal is to shield Bell from injury as long as possible, why was he encouraging Bell to run the risk of playing for the first 10 games three weeks ago, but he isn't now?

He may lose financially: Either way, he's leaving the $14.55 million franchise tag on the table in the name of chasing a greater reward next offseason.

Either way, he may lose financially if a catastrophic injury occurs. Whether the payoff was $33 million, $45 million or $1 billion, it wouldn't have changed the amount of physical risk involved or the amount of money he was leaving behind.

So why the change of heart, Adisa? Was it perhaps because you were bluffing? Was it possibly because before the franchise tag deadline expired, you never really thought you could get that much in the first place, so the franchise tag didn't look so bad?

If Bakari needed proof that another player could get that dollar figure before Bell, then he didn't genuinely believe he could get it from another team on the open market in the first place, and he was being disingenuous to his client.

Read between lines: Then there was Bakari's derisive remark during that same interview, inferring the Steelers would run Bell nonstop and that they wouldn't be willing to preserve his body.

Well, yeah. No kidding. That's what happens when you drag your client into a walk year instead of taking the security of numerous, long-term offers. The team then doesn't care what happens when you assure the player is going to leave after the season. That's kind of how it works.

Bakari told the hosts of that show to "read between the lines."

OK, Adisa. I'm holding up my index, middle and ring fingers right now. You should read between those lines instead.