It’s that time of the year when the NFL starts playing games that count, so of course it’s time for me to compose my yearly paean, the 16th, to the best football team in the world. This year is already a hot mess, though, so I find myself somewhat apprehensive. Nevertheless, I’m excited for the season because, well, football. So let’s get to it.
The hot mess comment above refers directly to the Le’Veon Bell situation. I’ve given this a lot of thought, unfortunately, and I still can’t decide if either party is wrong. The Steelers are doing the right thing for them by applying the Franchise tag, admittedly at great cost, and they made a great offer, at the time the best offer ever made to a running back, which Bell rejected.
Here’s the rub from the team’s perspective: no running back is worth what Bell wants, not even Bell. The Rams are rolling the dice with Gurley, but if he drops off like virtually all running backs do after a couple of years they’re saddled with a white elephant that will hurt them for years. The Steelers are also wary of the fact that he can’t stay off the shiat, and the next suspension is a year-long one. Add to that his injury history and they felt like they needed an escape clause later in the contract. If he had kept clean and continued to produce they would have kept him unreservedly, they know what they have with Bell. It was a top-shelf offer in today’s NFL.
Bell’s argument is more straightforward: he only has one big contract and he wants it to be as big as possible. Call it ego, vanity, or simple fiscal prudence, he turned it down for more. Alas for him, there is no more. Under the Franchise tag he can only play for the Steelers this year unless they release him, which they will never do, and no further negotiation is possible even if it were desired. Play or don’t play.
He’s not playing.
He has now given up a game check, which for him is around $900000. This has offended his teammates, who perceive that he’s saving himself for his next team at the expense of his current one. These are the same teammates who had his back all throughout this process under the assumption that he would show up ready to go when the season started. His agent has straight up insinuated that the Steelers would intentionally use him up this year to hurt his future, the one they tried to secure with their offer.
So here we are. Nobody knows how it’s going to work out. What a damn mess.
So, assuming he’s not going to be back until Week 10, which is when he absolutely has to show or he gets to do this again next year, Pittsburgh has James Conner, who has shown himself to be a hell of a pickup from last year’s draft. He’s a hometown product, a cancer survivor, and to all appearances he’ll be 80-90% of Bell, though Bell is a better receiver and more patient. Conner is more of a traditional back. We’ll see how it goes.
As for the rest of the team, the offensive line is still really good, they have a top-5 QB in Ben Roethlisberger, the best receiver in the game in Antonio Brown, and a strong supporting cast with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, the new deep threat. They finally cut Landry Fucking Jones and drafted the heir apparent with Mason Rudolph. Joshua Dobbs had a great preseason. The offense, with the exception of Bell, seems to be right where it needs to be.
This season, however, will only go as far as the defense lets it go. The loss of Ryan Shazier cannot be overstated. Replacing him is going to be very difficult. The secondary is less suspect than last year, but still apparently vulnerable. It’s weird to say that the weak link in Pittsburgh is the defense, but there it is.
As for the division, this looks to be more heated than it’s been in a long time. The Ratbirds look to be a solid team, the Bengals always play tough, and the Browns(!) are looking awfully tough. My prediction:
Alas, this may finally be the end for Marvin Lewis. You could always count on him when your team needed a win, especially in the playoffs. Hue Jackson may survive. Harbaugh and Tomlin stay locked in.
As for the rest of the league, who’s to say? So many teams have made apparent improvements that it’s hard to guess. All I know is that the damn Patriots will win the AFC Cupcake division, and remain the dragon that Pittsburgh has to slay, assuming they don’t score 42 and lose to Jacksonville again. And, of course, the Eagles won an ugly game on Thursday that they should have lost, but that’s what champions do. They’ll be a very tough out this year.
Anyway, it all starts tomorrow for my beloved Stillers. The winningest QB all-time in the Factory of Sadness adds to his win total. Cleveland has to wait at least one more week for a win.
PIT 27 CLE 17
It’s so good to have football back again. I’ve had the itch since 5 minutes agfter the Super Bowl ended.