It's taken 22 years, but we've finally found something on which Ravens and Steelers fans can agree. Ahead of Sunday's rematch (the Ravens cruised to a 26-14 victory in Week 4), Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was asked about Le'Veon Bell's absence from Pittsburgh's roster.
"There are a lot of stats [since 2015] that the Steelers are actually better without him," he said, via ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "That might be why he's riding a jet ski down in Miami right now."
Quick refresher: Le'Veon Bell skipped the preseason, just like he did a year ago. But instead of showing up before the season opener, just like he did a year ago, Bell surprised teammates by staying home. And he's remained there ever since (save the occasions he was seen jet skiing). The expectation was that he may show up on Wednesday, a day after the trade deadline, so he could finally join his teammates for the final two months of the season. There's still be no sign of him, however, and the Steelers seem quite content to proceed without him.
Second-year player James Conner has been a more-than-pleasant surprise. In seven games, Conner has 599 rushing yards (4.7 YPC) and nine touchdowns to go along with 31 receptions for 323 yards (10.4 YPC). Bell has scored 11 touchdowns (both rushing and receiving combined) twice in his first five seasons but has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per catch. There's plenty of other evidence that the Steelers are no worse off with Conner in their backfield.
James Conner on pace for 2,107 total yards & 20.5 TDs. Le'Veon Bell has only reached 2,000 total yards in a season once (2014) & his career-high for TDs is 11.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) October 29, 2018
Bell's initial decision to hold out made some sense. He knew this would be his final season in Pittsburgh and he wanted to save the wear and tear that 400-plus touches would take on his body. The plan: Hit free agency not only fresh but healthy, and cash in as one of the NFL's most dynamic players. And after turning down deals in back-to-back offseasons from the Steelers, we're guessing Bell was hoping for an annual payday north of $16 million annually. It only takes one team, as the saying goes, but with each passing week that Conner plays well, the less likely it seems that Bell will get anything approaching what he thinks he's worth.
So now the question becomes:? He needs to report by Week 10 to guarantee he'll become a free agent in the spring. But he could also choose to sit out the rest of the year and the Steelers could just choose to let him walk. For starters, it's clear the Steelers and Bell are far apart on what he's worth, and it makes sense for both parties to go their separate ways; Bell can test free agency and the Steelers can get a compensatory pick for losing him.
Whatever happens, this much is certain: Bell's stock is worse than it was two months ago.