STAPLETON: Earl Thomas injury makes it unlikely that Le'Veon Bell soon returns to Steelers

The Associated Press
  • Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is holding out this season.
  • The injury to Seattle's Earl Thomas may make it unlikely that Bell returns anytime soon.
  • ESPN is reporting that Bell plans to return to the Steelers during the team's Week 7 bye.

Any hope of recalcitrant Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell returning to the football field in the black and gold — or any other team’s colors — any time soon took a major hit when Seattle star safety Earl Thomas broke his lower left leg, illustrating the dangers of playing without the security of a long-term deal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running game is struggling with holdout running back Le'Veon Bell.

Thomas and Bell each held out this summer, but while Bell continued to work out on his own, Thomas returned to the Seahawks in time for the season opener without a trade or a new contract in hand.,

That move didn’t pay off financially or otherwise.

He got hurt in a game at Arizona, and when he was carted off the field at State Farm Stadium, he raised his middle finger toward the Seahawks’ sideline.

“Earl wanted an extension and at the end of the day he didn’t get that,” Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark said. “It sucks to see a guy who puts his heart into something, put his all into his team and he doesn’t get what he deserves.”

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said in an Instagram post, “If he doesn’t come then he’s not a team player. If he does come and gets hurt, then it’s ‘he shouldn’t have came.’ If I was him, I’d be (ticked) off.”

Bell chimes in: ESPN posted the quote and a photo of Thomas’ obscene gesture, and that’s when Bell chimed in , suggesting he wouldn’t be back on the field anytime soon.

“Smh, exactly …” wrote Bell. “Get right bro bro (Earl Thomas)! I’ll continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for ALL of us.”

Bell has refused to sign his $14.54 million one-year tender, concerned that he’d get overused in a contract year, either subjecting him to the risk of injury or to a devaluation of his talents.

Possible trade: NFL Network reported earlier Sunday that the Steelers were shopping Bell, as did ESPN.

Trading him is a tricky proposition because Bell would have to first sign his tender. Because he can’t negotiate a long-term deal until after this season, he’d still be taking on the injury risk with a new team.

Bell can return in Week 10 and still accrue a full season to become a free agent in March.

Returning in Week 7? According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Bell is planning to return to the Steelers during the team's Week 7 bye. Citing unnamed sources, Fowler reported that Bell "definitely plans to play football for the Steelers this season."

"It sucks having to sit out football," Bell told Fowler by telephone 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."

Bell is still holding out hope the team will re-sign him to a long-term contract once his franchise tag is up, according to Fowler's report.

If the former Michigan State standout does in fact report in Week 7, it means he will miss the Steelers' games vs. Atlanta on Oct. 7 and at Cincinnati on Oct. 14. He would return in time for the team's home game against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 28.

Steelers' run game struggling: Second-year running back James Conner has been doing a passable job filling in for Bell, but the offense has lacked balance at times without its All-Pro running back.

Conner had just 19 yards rushing in the Steelers Week 4 loss to the Ravens and just 17 yards in its Week 2 loss to Kansas City.  The return of Bell would certainly give the run game a boost.