PITTSBURGH — Now that he’s a New York Jet, Le’Veon Bell can take stock of his five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers — and his ex-quarterback.
In recent interviews with ESPN and Sports Illustrated, Bell assessed his experience with Ben Roethlisberger, who was the subject of Antonio Brown’s criticism before the Steelers traded Brown to the Oakland Raiders.
Coming off a four-year, $52.5-million extension with the Jets after a year-long holdout on the franchise tag, Bell told SI that Roethlisberger is a “great quarterback” who has preferences about who gets the ball in the Steelers offense.
“The organization wants to win. (Coach Mike) Tomlin wants to win,” Bell said. “Ben wants to win–but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with. 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.”
Bell said in the SI interview that Roethlisberger’s presence wasn’t the only factor in him wanting to leave, but “yes, it was a factor.” Bell added he wished he had had a “more open, more genuine, more real” relationship with the quarterback.
The Steelers never had had a losing season in Roethlisberger’s 15 seasons but struggled down the stretch in 2018, missing the playoffs after losing their last four games by a total of nine points.
Bell touched the ball 406 times in the Steelers offense in 2017 and was routinely the second-most targeted player in the passing game behind Brown.
Brown had issues with Roethlisberger calling him out publicly for his route-running after a Week 12 loss in Denver. In a February Q&A with fans on twitter, Brown tweeted that Roethlisberger has an “owner mentality” for his willingness to criticize coaches and players, and that teammates won’t challenge him on it. Teammates classified Brown and Roethlisberger’s relationship as ‘love-hate,’ with touchdowns assuaging the occasional disputes.
Bell told ESPN that he understands Brown’s perspective.
“When I was there, there were no major problems like that, maybe little things like being on Facebook, being uncomfortable,” said Bell, referring to Brown’s Facebook Live broadcast in the locker room after a 2017 playoff win in Kansas City. “I know Ben and AB personally. I know how personalities can get. I can see where things went wrong.
“A lot of things AB said, it had a lot of truth to it. I’ve had some of those interactions. I don’t react like AB does. AB isn’t the only bad guy in the situation. Ben isn’t the only bad guy either. It’s not just one person. It ain’t just me. It’s everybody.”
Many analysts and ex-players have questioned Roethlisberger’s leadership. But Steelers defensive end Tyson Alualu said “his play and his leadership speaks for itself,” and general manager Kevin Colbert called Roethlisberger the “unquestioned leader” of the team.
Bell hasn’t spoken to Roethlisberger since his holdout, during which Bell almost reported multiple times, he told ESPN. He planned to report before the Week 8 matchup with the Cleveland Browns but stayed away after learning new information about the franchise tag and his pending free agency. He came into town during Week 10 and said he almost made the drive to the facility.
In his SI interview, Bell said his original plan for 2018 evolved from missing training camp, then to skipping just one week, to eventually not feeling “comfortable” with the situation.
Roethlisberger stayed diplomatic throughout the process, saying he’s only worried about the players inside the Steelers locker room.
Bell knows his holdout angered the Steelers, which might explain why he heard from just a few ex-teammates after his Jets signing – Brown, who recruited him to Oakland, and free agent receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
“I do plan to talk to coach T at some point,” Bell said.