Tim Benz: Steelers' Le'Veon Bell painting himself as villain
If the Steelers are worried about winning the public relations battle in their ongoing contract dispute with Le'Veon Bell, they shouldn't be.
Because Bell keeps losing it on his own.
The more Bell talks — or more specifically, posts on social media — the worse he looks.
On Thursday, he tweeted: “It's so hard to be a hero in a city that tries to paint you out to be a villain.”
This Easter week attempt to martyr himself backfired.
A few sycophants on his timeline aside, most of the responses I heard were negative.
During his time with the Steelers, Bell has endured a few knee injuries. He also suffered a groin problem during the AFC title game two seasons ago.
Now he has a new ailment.
Apparently, Bell is remarkably tone deaf.
No one has ever questioned Bell's heroism on the field. Between the regular season and playoffs the last two years, Bell has touched the ball 836 times. Most of those touches have yielded great results, and he almost has never turned it over.
The fans Bell has managed to keep are in his corner because of the offensive burden he has shouldered for the Steelers: 4,345 yards from scrimmage in 2016 and '17.
As is the case in most hero/villain melodramas, a villain usually gets that description because of greed.
In the case of Lex Luthor or Skeletor, power and world domination are the end goals.
Think of Bell, though, as more like Dr. Evil in the original “Austin Powers” movie: pure greed based on money and outlandish financial demands .
Bell might as well walk into Kevin Colbert's office holding Mr. Bigglesworth and demanding “one hundred billion dollars.”
He's as likely to get that as he is the $17 million in average annual value he allegedly is asking for now .
When you don't show up on time to play for a $12 million franchise tag, reject a $13 million per year offer,and then increase demands from $14.5 million per year to $17 million per year, yes Le'Veon, people are going to paint you as a greedy villain.
That's especially true since the next highest-paid running back (Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons) makes less than half of that on average ($8.25 million).
Further characterizing Bell negatively is that, according to the NFL Network report about Bell's increased asking price, he only pushed it to $17 million because of an ego game he's playing against his own teammate. He picked that number because it's the same amount Antonio Brown makes on average.
It's also a number based on ego because the AAV means nothing in NFL contracts. It's the guaranteed money that counts. But that speaks to Bell's ignorance and vanity when it comes to contract demands as much as it does pure greed.
Although ignorance and vanity also are traits you see in most movie villains, too, right?
If that tweet was an attempt by Bell to portray someone else as the villain besides himself, it's not going to work.
The media isn't the bad guy. We're just the ones disseminating Bell's contract demands.
The fans aren't the bad guys. At $13 million per year, how are they supposed to relate to the notion of rejecting that kind of money on a multiyear deal?
It's not even the team or the league that can be scapegoats. This isn't the Pirates refusing to pay Barry Bonds or Andrew McCutchen. The Steelers made an offer to Bell that many within the fan base were surprised to see extended that high.
This isn't an uncapped sport forcing the Penguins to trade Jaromir Jagr for a piddly return, or a cap system deemed to be too restrictive.
This is simply one really good player asking for way too much.
Oh, and James Harrison rushing to Bell's defense on social media by posting “Welcome to the city,” wasn't exactly the best kind of endorsement for Bell, either.
Based on how Harrison forced his way out of town, that's not the kind of company Bell should be keeping if he's worried about how he's perceived in Pittsburgh.
Which clearly he is.
That easily could be remedied if he simply signs the franchise tag and reports on time, or if he accepts a beyond-fair offer he already has been extended.
That doesn't take a hero. It just takes someone with common sense.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.