Le’Veon Bell just admitted what has long been evident since his 2019 departure from Pittsburgh -- he never should have left.
Bell and Pittsburgh were a heaven-made match before it all fell apart. The Steelers' stout offensive line during his time there was more prolific at keeping run stuffers at bay than almost any unit in the league, while Bell's rare combination of patience and pop, dancing through holes moments before they closed, resulted in 5,336 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns. He also posed a threat in the passing game, three times putting together 75-plus catch seasons.
Overall, he reached three Pro Bowls and had two All-Pro seasons during his five-year run with the team from 2013-2017.
That successful partnership gave way to issues over his worth as his rookie contract ended. The Steelers franchise tagged him in 2017. Bell played under that tag and had his finest year as a professional with the hopes of being taken care of long-term, but a deal both sides felt fair never came to pass.
Bell told the podcast that Pittsburgh only wanted to guarantee his first year of a potential extension, and that he wanted more security, which led the Pro Bowler to sit out all of 2018 after being hit with a second franchise tag.
"We kept going back and forth," he said. "It literally was the guarantee. They weren't budging off of it and I wasn't budging off of it. I didn't want to leave Pittsburgh. At the end of the day, that's where I was at. That's where I got drafted at. Especially after going to different teams and seeing how it is, when a team has their guy, you're their guy. I was Pittsburgh's guy."
In 2019, he was free to go elsewhere. He landed with the Jets and was never the same.
He rushed for 789 yards and three TDs in his first year with Gang Green, at the time his worst output in any season with over six games played, and then lasted only two contests and a stint on injured reserve the following year before getting released.
He split the remainder of 2020 and the 2021 season between the Chiefs, Ravens and Buccaneers, rarely amounting to even second fiddle in the RB room. In his three years away from the Steelers, he made just 19 starts (34 games played) with 1,218 rushing yards and seven scores. He failed to catch on with a team in 2022.
Now, with the passage of time and the negative experiences failing to turn up green grass elsewhere, Bell has no vitriol left for the team that drafted him.
In fact, he expressed that if he ever did entertain an NFL comeback, it could only be for the Black and Gold.
"I never officially retired," Bell said. "The day when I do retire, it's gonna be with Pittsburgh. Like, I'm trying to retire with Pittsburgh. But before I do that, I might be like, 'Hey, let me get a couple carries in the preseason so I can show you all something.'
"With the Steelers, I would do the little preseason, like alright, boom boom, but I would not do that anywhere else. Because I don't even think about playing, it literally would only be in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is where I'll retire, you know what I'm saying, that's just it. Because I already been other places. It's not Pittsburgh."
Bell's talk of a return seems more braggadocio than a sincere goal -- certainly when compared to Adrian Peterson, whom Bell knocked out in a boxing match last September, admitting earlier this week that he isn't mentally ready to hang it up.
Bell boasted that he's in the "best physical form" he's ever been in and would be "averaging 100 (yards) a game" as a feature back, but the 31-year-old has consistently stated for the past year that he's now focused on his boxing career rather than one on the gridiron.
Steelers fans who might have enjoyed the nostalgia trip will instead need to find solace in their former All-Pro RB mending fences. They're far more likely to see him get a retirement ceremony with the club than suiting up for it again.