Steelers’ Bell suspended for three games

NFL reduces ban from four

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Le’Veon Bell asked everyone, presumably his Steelers teammates as well, to “trust me” and in the end those words rung hollow when the NFL suspended him for the first three games of the season.

It is the second consecutive season in which the onetime All-Pro halfback will start on the suspended list for violating the NFL’s policy and program for substances of abuse. He also is the second Steelers player suspended this year for violating the drug policy. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant will miss the entire 2016 season for his multiple failed tests.

For the second consecutive year, the league reduced his penalty by one game, but that can hardly be any solace for the Steelers organization. Originally a four-game suspension, the NFL reduced it to three on appeal. Last year, after he was arrested for marijuana possession and charged for DUI in August 2014, the league reduced his suspension from three games to two.

But this is neither a victory for Bell nor the Steelers.

Though Bell will be eligible to practice and play with the team through the preseason, he will miss the team’s first three regular-season games against the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles. He will be eligible to rejoin the team in Week 4, when the Steelers play the Kansas City Chiefs at home.

“We are disappointed Le’Veon Bell has been suspended three games to start the 2016 season,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “We will continue to support Le’Veon, but we acknowledge this mistake has put the team in an unfortunate position. We will continue to work with Le’Veon to help him eliminate distractions in his life so he can reach his full potential as a member of our community as well as a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

But the Steelers at this point are not likely to show that support in the terms of a new contract. Bell will forfeit $170,629 in salary this season but that is a drop in the bucket in what it might ultimately cost him.

As he enters the final year of the four-year contract he signed as their second-round draft pick in 2013, he was eligible for a new deal that could have put him among the highest-paid running backs in the league. Even if he did not reach Adrian Peterson’s average of $14 million a year, he likely would have earned what the next highest-paid backs pull down, between $7 million and $8 million annually. Many polls have named Bell as the NFL’s top running back.

All that now has to be in doubt, as is Bell’s future with the Steelers. If they do not sign Bell to a contract extension before next March, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

Bell was notified in March that he failed a drug test, and once news of a possible four-game suspension emerged in late July, Bell was adamant he would not face any punishment. He also was adamant in June when he told reporters that he knew nothing about any failed drug tests.

“I’m not going to miss games, trust me,” Bell wrote in an Instagram comment in July, using his verified account.

When he first discussed the incident with reporters days later, he was less certain.

“I’m going to let it take its course and see what happens,” Bell said.

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