Le'Veon Bell: Ben 'was a factor' in RB leaving Steelers, reveals how close he came to signing deal

It took more than three years, all told, but Le'Veon Bell is finally free and finally paid, having gotten a large contract from the Jets in free agency. Bell's saga with the Steelers came to an end rather unceremoniously, with Pittsburgh ultimately announcing it wouldn't use any kind of tag on Bell after multiple years of battling about his status. 

Now Bell has opened up about everything that went on in Pittsburgh, talking to Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com at his album release party on the eve of his signing in New York. 

Bell doesn't pull any punches: he's pretty open about the situation with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, which he calls "a factor" in his decision to leave. Roethlisberger was recently accused of purposely fumbling a snap just to spite former OC Todd Haley and has been criticized openly by Antonio Brown. Add Bell to the dogpile.

"Yes, it was a factor," Bell said of his relationship with Roethlisberger, which he wishes was "more open, more genuine, more real."

"Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is," Bell said. But "you're still a teammate at the end of the day. You're not Kevin Colbert. You're not [team president Art] Rooney." 

Bell also believes, per Vrentas, that Ben's "personal preferences played a role" in who got the ball most frequently.

"The organization wants to win. [Coach Mike] Tomlin wants to win. Ben wants to win — but Ben wants to win his way, and that's tough to play with," Bell explained. "Ben won a Super Bowl, but he won when he was younger. Now he's at this stage where he tries to control everything, and [the team] let him get there.

"So if I'm mad at a player and I'm not throwing him the ball — if I'm not throwing A.B. the ball and I'm giving JuJu [Smith-Schuster] all the shine or Jesse [James] or Vance [McDonald] or whoever it is, and you know consciously you're making your other receiver mad but you don't care—it's hard to win that way."

Whew, boy. This is going to make for an interesting run up to the season for the Steelers. Roethlisberger isn't the type of guy to just completely let this go -- he's called plenty of teammates out in the past, obviously, and it wouldn't be surprising if he took some shots at both Bell and Brown once the focus really hones in on the Steelers. 

Adding fuel to the fire is Bell, in a wide-ranging interview that is well worth a read, saying he believes if the Steelers had paid him, they would have won the Super Bowl last year. 

"If I'd played this year, we would have won the Super Bowl. Think about the weapons we had. I would have been unhappy as hell, but if I was sprinkled in," Bell said. "When we were winning games, it wasn't bothering me how much I was getting the ball. Last year was our year, that's why I didn't understand why they didn't just get it done. They had the money. Get it done and go win a Super Bowl."

How close did Bell come to playing last year? Much closer than anyone could have imagined. Bell told Vrentas he initially planned to just skip Week 1, then changed his return for Week 7 after the Steelers bye and then targeted the trade deadline when the Steelers wouldn't confirm whether or not they would deal the running back.

"I was gonna go back to play, forget everything that happened all year, bite the bullet and hope they respect me," Bell said. "Because I just wanted to play football."

All of this checks out: there were rumors of Bell skipping just one week and then many people believed Bell would come back following the bye. He also tweeted about going back to Pittsburgh ahead of the trade deadline

Part of his not wanting to return involved the Steelers decision making and part of it apparently involved his teammates comments. 

"I felt like: For me to get my full potential and be the player I know I can be, I gotta go play with different players," Bell said. "I gotta go play with people who want to see me succeed, who want me to be great. Getting a fresh start, [that's] the best thing for me."

The fact that Pittsburgh didn't put out a big enough offer was obviously an issue too (although after July 15 passed, Bell couldn't return and sign that anyway). According to Vrentas, Bell claims the last offer he got from Pittsburgh was for "five years, $70 million—$14 million per [year], with the only fully guaranteed money being a $10 million signing bonus."

He was scheduled to make $33 million in the first two years of the deal; Pittsburgh would have had to cut him in order to really rake the RB over the coals on the deal. As Vrentas points out, the Steelers have never cut a player that quickly into a contract that big. Did he think about signing it?

"I was so close," Bell said. "Like, I almost [signed] it."

It might be one of the great what-ifs -- maybe Bell signs the deal and the Steelers are all happy heading into the 2018 season and win their early-season games. Maybe they keep winning and land a high AFC seed. Maybe Antonio Brown doesn't get unhappy. Maybe they win the Super Bowl and everything we think about the current state of the franchise is completely different. 

None of that happened though, which leaves us to wonder what could have been as we wonder what Bell might be able to do with his new team. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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