He has been suspended (twice) for marijuana-related offenses, and he has been injured. But he also has been, at times, the best running back and one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the NFL. So should the Pittsburgh Steelers commit long term to Le'Veon Bell and buck the trend of going low with RB contracts? ESPN’s AFC North reporters provide their opinions.
Jamison Hensley, ESPN’s Baltimore Ravens reporter: Yes, although the Steelers have a legitimate reason not to do so. Pittsburgh has watched its past top running backs like Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall have a shelf life of only five to six years, but Bell is that special exception who deserves that commitment. Since being drafted by the Steelers in 2013, Bell has led the NFL with an average of 128.7 yards from scrimmage per game. He can impact a game, whether it’s patiently waiting for a hole to open up in the running game or breaking a big play off a short pass. Other dual threats like LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray ranked in the top five in total yards last season despite getting closer to age 30. Bell, who is 25, should be considered an offensive cornerstone like Antonio Brown.
Pat McManamon, ESPN’s Cleveland Browns reporter: Absolutely. It's true that running backs are not prized the way they once were, but not many running backs can do what Bell does. He's so important to Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game that he's almost a third or fourth wideout any time he's on the field. He runs well but is a major threat in the passing game. This does not mean the Steelers should stop looking for another quality back, though. Depth would help ensure that Bell does not wear out. As long as the Steelers have Roethlisberger they should have Bell as well. Without him, the offense is not as dangerous.
Katherine Terrell, ESPN’s Cincinnati Bengals reporter: Many might advise against committing significant money to a running back in what has become a passing era. The Steelers should make an exception for Bell. It’s true that a team can easily find another running back elsewhere. However, a special running back like Bell is rare. The team could go years without finding another back of his caliber. Bell makes the Steelers' offense tick, and his presence is one of the reasons they’re able to find so much success. He was able to shoulder a lot of the load last season when the Steelers were dealing with injuries at other positions. Teams might be wary of investing in running backs these days because the physical nature of the position often can lead to sudden decline without warning. But considering Bell is only 25, the Steelers could feel good about making a long-term commitment while he’s still in the prime of his career. They’d be wise to keep him around.