The Pittsburgh Steelers will already be without wide receiver Martavis Bryant for the entire 2016 season thanks to a violation of the NFL's policy on substances of abuse, and now they may be without Le'Veon Bell for the first four games of the season as well. According to multiple reports, Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy.
ESPN's Dan Graziano has a bunch of information in his report, including the fact that Bell's suspension is for a missed test, not a failed one:
Sources close to the situation tell me Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violation... https://t.co/6CWpS45NSm— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) July 22, 2016
The text of the report reads in full:
Sources close to the situation tell me Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's drug policy. The suspension is the result of a MISSED drug test, not a failed one, and the reason it hasn't yet been announced is that the appeal process is still going on. No date for Bell's appeal has been set, though it's expected that it will be heard before the start of the regular season, meaning that if it's not overturned, he would miss the first four games of the season. Bell was suspended for the first three games of last season (later reduced to two) for a violation of the policy on substances of abuse after he was arrested for marijuana possession and DUI in the summer of 2014.
Bell last month denied a report that he had missed or failed a drug test and was facing a suspension.
Losing Bell for four games would be a huge blow to the Steelers. He's one of the NFL's best running backs and a major component of their offense, especially with Bryant missing the whole year. DeAngelo Williams filled in admirably for Bell last season, but can't realistically be expected to produce at the same level as Bell, even with Bell coming off an ACL tear.
The outcome of Bell's appeal will obviously have a major effect on Pittsburgh's season. The Steelers face the NFL's fifth-toughest schedule over the first four games of the season, opening with Washington, then the Bengals, Eagles, and Chiefs.
Here are a few more things to know about Bell and his suspension:
1. Bell is arguably the NFL's most productive skill-position player.
Le'Veon has been in the NFL for three seasons, and in that time only five players (Antonio Brown, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, and Demaryius Thomas) have more yards from scrimmage. Bell has played at least nine fewer games than all five players. On a per-game basis, he dwarfs the field in yards from scrimmage since 2013.
In those three years, Bell has also ranked 28th, 9th, and then 1st among running backs in Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent).
2. Williams did his best Bell impression over the final eight games of 2015.
Starting in Week 9, Williams averaged 112.1 yards from scrimmage per game. He averaged 4.36 yards per carry and hauled in 3.8 catches per game, just south of Bell's career average of 4.3 per game. He had a few games where he disappeared on the ground (8 carries, 29 yards against Seattle; 14 carries, 26 yards against Denver) but he also had three 100-plus yard games, three multi-touchdown games, and four games with five or more catches out of the backfield. Pittsburgh's offense averaged 31.9 points per game in those eight weeks, which would have led the league over the course of a full season.
3. Bell is now likely in Stage Three of the NFL's substance abuse policy
We know this because he was suspended for four games, which means he was already in Stage Two. Being in Stage Three means Bell will have to comply with a treatment plan and be subjected to unannounced drug tests. A violation of the drug policy while in Stage Three results in a year-long ban, unless the first violation is for marijuana, in which case it results in a 10-game suspension. Stage Three players can expect to stay at this level for the rest of their careers. Bell and Martavis Bryant are likely in this boat together.