"Of course, absolutely," said guard Ramon Foster, one of the most outspoken critics of Bell's absence from the team. "It wasn't a question about us welcoming him or not welcoming him, it was about what was going to go on."
Bell's franchise tender for $14.5 million remains unsigned, and when he didn't show up for the practices leading up to the season opener in Cleveland, Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey were not happy.
Last week, Pouncey said Bell's decision not to notify the team of his plans was "a little selfish" and that Bell might as well stay away for 10 games. Bell can report as late as Week 11 and still earn an accrued NFL season, making him an unrestricted free agent in March.
Bell's goal is to preserve long-term health, and his return date is uncertain.
Foster told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bell "doesn't give a damn" and the linemen blocking for Bell make much less than the running back who gains yards at least partly because of their work. Average pay for a Steelers offensive lineman ranges from $3.2 million (Foster) to $10 million (David DeCastro).
In a Twitter post, Foster photoshopped Bell's face into the 'Where's Waldo?' character.
Several ex-NFL players, many of whom are now media personalities, were critical of the comments, citing an unwritten locker room rule to avoid public discussion about a teammate's money. But Foster and others made it clear that, though players want Bell to maximize his dollar, this is not a true holdout because the negotiations with the team ended July 16, and Bell has no choice but to play on the tag.
Asked a week later to reflect on his comments, Foster said he's not ready to open that box.
"I'm not even going to go farther into that this week. That's old now," Foster said. "I would need a whole soapbox and I'm not ready, because that would then be taken as a bitter jab, so I'll leave that alone. I'll leave it as it is. We're just moving forward. ... You can't change perception of what people think, what they want to think about you. To anyone who wants to have a conversation about it, we're on social media -- they can find us."
"Everybody has the right to an opinion," added Pouncey on Wednesday. "It's the First Amendment."
The Steelers are blocking for James Conner, who said he spoke with Bell after rushing for 135 yards and two TDs against Cleveland in Week 1. Foster said Bell reaching out to Conner would be "commendable," but he personally hasn't spoken to Bell.
Conner was unhappy with social media comments suggesting his zealous celebration with the offensive line after his first career touchdown was throwing shade at Bell. That simply wasn't the case, Conner said, and Foster agrees.
"His first career touchdown on a wide open, perfectly blocked play. Who wouldn't celebrate that?" Foster said. "If you can tell also, he kind of pushed JuJu [Smith-Schuster] out of the way to come to us. That was awesome. There was so much hype around that team and that defense, on a road game -- there was genuine excitement."