PITTSBURGH -- The juxtaposition couldn't be more clear. While the Pittsburgh Steelers are putting out fires with Antonio Brown's sideline and social media behavior, Le'Veon Bell is coolin' on jet skis in South Florida.
The gap between star player and team widens by the week.
Bell's situation continues to fascinate the longer he stays away, and his wave-running excursion doesn't exactly exude confidence for a return for Monday Night Football at Tampa Bay.
Unless he surprisingly shows up for a midweek practice, Bell is set to miss another $852,941 check on that $14.5 million franchise tag, which would bring his maximum 2018 earnings to $11.9 million -- if he signs the tag in Week 4.
Bell's absence in Week 1 left much to unpack. When he missed Week 2, it created more questions. Now that Week 3 is here, Bell clearly has a long-term play that we can examine further.
What is Bell's plan to protect his future earnings?
This deals directly with insurance. More NFL players are securing disability insurance, paying hefty premiums to ensure a big payout if they get hurt and lose value.
Since Bell is betting big on 2019 free agency with each franchise-tag paycheck he forgoes, the obvious question is: What kind of plan does Bell have?
The answer might be nothing.
One prominent NFL insurance broker who knows when all the big deals go through says he hasn't heard any plan set forth by Bell to protect himself in his gamble year.
Efforts to reach Bell's camp have been unsuccessful.
To be sure, those premiums can reach up to $100,000 for players trying to cover $50 million or more, which should be Bell's floor because of his free-agency outlook. Perhaps that was too steep for Bell given his confidence in making it through the year healthy.
So he really has to take care of his body this year. What is Bell doing to protect it?
He's hardly living in a bubble. Days before signing his $12.1 million tender last year, Bell posted several videos of his pickup basketball games. This year, it's jet skis, which are hardly considered dangerous, but clearly Bell isn't concerned with getting hurt while away.
Bell told ESPN in June that he wanted to rest his joints more and scale back his on-field work in the months leading up to the harder, preseason training.
The Steelers have lauded Bell's rigorous training method in the past. At this point, it's difficult to gauge when Bell is ramping up that training for an eventual return.
What has been the fantasy fallout from Bell's absence?
This one can't be understated. Fantasy football is a multibillion-dollar business and Bell was a surefire top-two overall pick. Millions of fantasy owners nationwide would have gladly contributed $5 apiece until Bell got however much money needed to show up to team headquarters.
The NFL salary cap doesn't work that way, of course, which leaves thousands of Bell drafters throwing their laptops at the wall each Sunday when their backup RB1 underperforms.
Yeah, it's that bad.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bell and Todd Gurley were going 1-2 in nearly every league in late August, and though Gurley eventually took the top ranking, Bell remained a late-second or early-third-round pick in most leagues even after he officially missed his Week 1 paycheck.
Drafters who took Bell No. 1 overall in ESPN leagues have a winning percentage of 43.5 percent compared with 65.2 percent among those who drafted Gurley first. Those Gurley-led teams are producing 11.5 percent more points on average than those who took Bell with the top spot.
Exactly 21.3 percent of teams in ESPN leagues that drafted Bell also have James Conner on the roster. Those teams have a winning percentage of 59.98 percent.
How will the Steelers' running game evolve without Bell?
The Monday night matchup with Tampa Bay should bring Conner's role into focus. Conner broke through with 192 total yards in Week 1, with the offense testing his workhorse capabilities with 31 carries and five receptions. But last week the Steelers all but ditched the running game as Conner finished with 17 yards on eight carries.
The real Conner might be somewhere in the middle. Kansas City dared Ben Roethlisberger to continue running the no-huddle by rushing three or four defenders without much blitzing. It's far-fetched to expect Roethlisberger to duplicate 60 passes on the road. Regardless, he'll look to Conner for the easy throws. Conner is averaging 10.5 yards per catch, and the Steelers' running game will want him to get going early.
The Steelers would gladly take an All-Pro player such as Bell. They also believe Conner is capable, and a solid Week 3 performance would quell any lingering concerns, at least for another week.