Injuries cost him time to prepare effectively for the 2015 season. Those same issues -- ankle and Achilles -- left him without a ton of burst to start the season. He appeared slower when he ran, unable to hit the holes as effectively as he did in 2013 and 2014 when he was a valuable piece of the Detroit offense.
He looked better toward the end of the season, including back-to-back games with at least 75 all-purpose yards, but by then he was being used differently. He was a spot-duty back, mostly in short-yardage. He was no longer the lead back Detroit had hoped he would continue to be after he rushed for 860 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014.
Instead he struggled through the season. His production wilted, with career lows in rushing yards (311), receptions (22) and receiving yards (286). Moreover, he was passed on the depth chart by rookie Ameer Abdullah as well as receiving back Theo Riddick.
Zach Zenner, who ended up on injured reserve, also showed promise as a short-yardage back when Bell was injured.
The emergence of those players combined with Bell’s own lack of production along with a $3.5 million cap number for 2016 led to his release Tuesday. The Lions will gain back $2.5 million in cap space and have a $1 million dead money hit from his contract.
The release also concludes the Lions career of one of the franchise’s better recent stories.
Bell was tied to the Detroit community. He played college ball down the road from Ford Field at Wayne State. He worked as a security guard for the Lions during training camp long before he was putting on the uniform for the franchise. He was one of the Lions more beloved players because he was local. He matured in the city, even though he technically grew up on the west side of the state in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and he felt a large attachment to it as well.
All Bell wanted coming out of Wayne State undrafted was a chance in the NFL. It was something he worked for as he went from Buffalo to Philadelphia to Indianapolis and then back to Philadelphia again before going on to New Orleans and then Detroit. That all happened as he tried to prove he belonged in the league.
With the Lions, he did, rushing 561 times for the Lions and gaining 2,235 yards with 22 touchdowns. He also caught 161 passes for 1,640 yards and one touchdown. As he emerged as a playmaker for the Lions, he created a touchdown celebration that stuck with him the rest of his Detroit career -- a version of Hip Hop Hooray with his hands.
It was one of the many things that endeared him to fans in 2013 and then again in 2014.
But if he celebrates again in the NFL, it won’t be with the Lions.