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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Keep criticism of Steelers' Le'Veon Bell about greed, not production

| Sunday, March 11, 2018, 6:34 p.m.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes a catch over the middle against the Texans' Eddie Pleasant in the second quarter Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes a catch over the middle against the Texans' Eddie Pleasant in the second quarter Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston.

A strange sidebar has emerged surrounding the Le'Veon Bell contract saga.

Who am I kidding? The whole thing is strange. Every time Bell says something, it gets stranger.

But what's become odd is the new narrative that Bell isn't worth the money.

Not that he's being greedy by asking for so much cash. Not that his salary will eat up too much of the cap.

No. The new spin from a lot of fans and media is Bell isn't as good as we've made him out to be.

Funny how that works, huh? If you wear Black and Gold, you are the best "fill-in-the-blank-position."

The minute you leave or, in Bell's case, when you are about to leave, then you weren't that good anyway.

That argument gets cooked up the way most arguments do: through statistics. Or, better said, plucking specific statistics from the pile that make your case and ignore others.

A developing opinion in Pittsburgh is the Steelers should let Bell walk in free agency because he's not worth it.

If you subscribe to the running-back-by-committee approach or the running-back-isn't-that-important school of thought, I disagree.

I'm not going to change your mind. But I disagree.

Where I hope to change your mind is to get you to dismiss attempts that undercut Bell's value by citing a few convenient numbers.

Critics of Bell say his yards per carry average is down from 4.9 in 2015 and '16 to 4.0 last season. His yards per reception dropped from 8.2 to 7.7. His longest rush from scrimmage was only 27 yards. And he was down about one catch per game.

So what?

It shouldn't be surprising his averages are down. This was the first time he went through a season without injury or suspension. More touches can bring down numbers.

Bell still had more catches than any back in football and ranked 10th overall in receptions. He was third in the league in rushing.

When it comes to long rushes, is the realistic goal to go 70 yards or move the sticks?

Bell had 74 rushing first downs. That's the most in the NFL. Catching the ball, he had 31. That's one less than Todd Gurley, who some say has surpassed Bell as the best back in football.

I wonder how many people griping about Bell's lack of long runs also said, "Sure, Willie Parker pops a few long runs. But how consistent is he?"

Now we don't want consistency, we just want big plays?

Bell averages 128.9 yards from scrimmage. That's an NFL record for a player over his first five seasons.

So let's stop with this silliness. Bell's production is still fantastic. We're just mad at him for demanding too much money and are transferring that anger to his on-field production.

Some arguments being made against Bell are also inconsistent. Many people who are crushing his per-game production were also critical of his rusty start last season because he missed training camp.

OK, but after Bell knocked off the rust, his last 12 games were nearly identical to the 12 games he played in '16. Bell's receiving totals were 17 yards apart. His rushing totals, 157.

Basically, he had one extra big game in 2016, and that game was against Baltimore at the end of the year when the Steelers needed him to play. He had 122 yards against the Ravens. He only had 14 carries against Houston this year in Game 15.

By the way, he averaged almost five yards a rush in the process.

None of this is to mention his quality pass blocking either.

The simple truth is, some people are working WAY too hard to support the Steelers' stance of refusing to pay Bell what he wants. The team's decision doesn't need artificial validation. Bell is asking for too much money.

The franchise tag for one year or $12-$13 million for multiple years is plenty.

Can't we keep it simple and say he's just asking for too much instead of pretending he's overrated?

Not paying Bell based on economics makes sense. Trying to invalidate him as a player doesn't.

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.

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