A crucial thing to know about Le'Veon Bell, if you ask one of his mentors, that's an excellent chess player. Bell took the game as a third-grader and still plays frequently. He employs a patient strategy, holding back action pieces and waiting for his opponent to make the first mistake. It is not dissimilar to his running style, which makes him singular NFL force when he plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bell, of course, is not playing at present. He refused to sign the Steelers' franchise day tender worth $ 14.5 million and is still holding out for a long-term deal he feels compensates him with his unique ability and massive production. Bell does not want to incur the damage of a full season's workload without a long-term contract. Bell has lost $ 855,000 a week by not showing up, which means he has forfeited $ 6.8 million so far.
Tuesday afternoon clarifies one aspect of Bell's situation. As the trade deadline passed at 4 p.m., Bell has not been reported to the Steelers, which means if he plays at this year, it will be for Pittsburgh. Another question is harder to answer: Why has Bell left nearly $ 7 million and counting on the table?
Bell believes the Steelers have undervalued him, and he does not want to put his body at risk as potential free agency beckons. But they do not want to hurt, and they do not resort to the lengths Bell has. So, what makes Bell able and willing to make an extreme stand?
Donis Toler Jr. does not agree with Bell's decision, but he can understand and explain it as well as anyone. "I love that kid like a son," Toler said. Groveport Madison High in Ohio, where he was a mentor to Bell, at unheralded high school star who received only one Power 5 scholarship offer. To Toler, Bell's holdout derives from a combination of strategy and stubbornness.
"This is just like playing chess," said Toler. "He'll put stuff out there, and he'll say stuff. Most of the time, they believe it 99 percent of the time. And that's not really him. All I want to do is play ball, but this is just chess to him: 'Let me get the highest value.'
For Bell's hold on a financial perspective, he would have to get his money back in his next contract, a long-term deal either from the Steelers or another team. He must report to the Steelers by Nov. 13, the Tuesday following Week 10, to be on the same page. If Bell reports then, he'd have foregone $ 8.55 million. Bell, essentially, is making his money.
Bell's ability to believe in an outcome. Early in his senior year, he saw the academic benchmarks for him graduate a semester early and enroll at a power 5 school in January. Bell has changed his habits in order to reach them, even though he has yet to be offered a scholarship. When Michigan State offered one at the 11th hour, Bell committed, then enrolled early.
Self-preservation partly motivated Bell's holdout. He ran or caught the ball 406 times last season, 60 touches more than anyone else in the NFL. "I want to play. I want to play games and the playoffs. But I've gotta take this stand, "Bell told ESPN early in October. "I knew I could not play 16 games with 400 or more touches."
But driving that, toler said, is pride. Once Bell was threatened to hold out, tolerated he would – he's always known Bell to stick to his word. Bell would sometimes do the opposite of what somebody told him, tolerated recall, just to show the situation. Bell decided the Steelers should be considered as a running back, but as a hybrid running and receiving threat. Once that was in his mind, he was not budging.
"He just believes he should be paid accordingly," said Toler. "When you're running back and you should be paid as a No. 1 running back and a no. 2 wide receivers, you set the market yourself, and there's no past market.
His pride is a little bit hurt. When you're negotiating, no matter if you're a business executive or chief executive, there's the business side and the personality side. Unfortunately, sometimes the two can not blend. From a personal standpoint, do I think he wants to be with Pittsburgh long term? Absolutely. He's stuck on this number. Whether it's 17 [million] or 14.5. it comes down to pride. It comes down to him believing, 'Right now, he just feels he deserves to get more than $ 14.5 million and there' s no one 's going to say any more about him (it). He took it too personal. "
Toler is confident in one thing about Bell's saga: Whatever advice he received from his agent or anyone else, Bell made the final decision on his own. Toler chuckled at the idea that Bell could not have been comfortable with.
"He's his own person," said Toler. "He's not going to let anybody jeopardize anything for himself other than himself. Every time I've talked to him about things, he's just up to it. I've never known him to push anything on anyone – 'someone's influencing me to do this.' He's always been his own guy. "
Toler is among those who believe Bell should have accepted the franchise day offer. But he still supports Bell. Bell has kept his circle exceedingly small during the saga, and has not spoken with him. But he continues to send him messages.
"I know he's reading them," Toler said. "I know he's hearing them. When you care about somebody so much, the last thing you want to do is let them down. The last thing you want to do is confront them. Sometimes it's just easier to avoid those people, because they really do not think so. People can agree or disagree. How I feel about him is never going to change. I love that kid like a son. Do I agree with everything he's done? No. But I love the kid. We just got a little bit different opinion. It does not make what I say right, and it does not make what he says right. It's a lot of pride involved. "