The Pittsburgh Steelers will not have Le'Veon Bell to start the 2016 NFL season, but they won’t be missing as long as anticipated either.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the NFL has reduced Bell’s suspension from four games to three.
Steelers' RB LeVeon Bell is having his suspension reduced from 4 to 3 games, sources told ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 19, 2016
ESPN also reports that Bell's suspension was reduced to three games as a result of a negotiated settlement between the NFL and the players' union. This also means that Bell will remain in his current stage of the NFL's drug program instead of advancing to the next stage. The NFL doesn’t make public what stage a player is in.
A violation of the drug policy while in Stage Three results in a year-long ban, unless the first violation is for marijuana, in which case it results in a 10-game suspension. Stage Two is probably where Bell is at, which means his next infraction would only result in a four-game suspension.
The All-Pro back will not be on the field for Steelers’ Week 2 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, which now looks far more manageable for the boys in stripes.
Bell was appealing a suspension that came as a result of a failed drug test, though it was because he missed the test, not because he tested positive for an illegal substance.
Bell and his agent were arguing that Bell had gotten a new phone number, which led to him missing calls to meet with NFL personnel for a drug test.
As Yahoo Sports’ Shalise Manza Young points out, Appendix E of the NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse clearly states that it is the responsibility of the player to provide an up-to-date phone number and address where they can be reached for testing.
In other words, Bell’s defense should never have worked, so it’s no surprise his suspension is being upheld for the most part. This latest setback also comes after Bell missed the second half of last season due to a torn MCL suffered vs the Bengals.
Bell was suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season for a violation of the policy on substances of abuse after he was arrested for marijuana possession and a DUI in the summer of 2014.
He was with now-Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount at the time. Since the Steelers drafted Bell in the second round out of Michigan State in 2013, they are 14-2 in games in which Bell carried the ball 20 or more times.
Bell’s lone 16-game season came in 2014 when he was arguably the best back in football. Bell finished that year second in rushing yards (1,361) and receptions for a running back (83).
When healthy and not suspended, Bell is easily one of the NFL's best running backs and offensive playmakers. He's also been a thorn in the side of the Bengals through his first three years in the NFL.
Since 2013, the Steelers are 3-0 vs the Bengals in games which Bell starts and plays into the second half. That's early happened though with injuries and suspensions sidelining him for 16 games (including playoffs) over his first three seasons.
Speaking of, with Bell out the first three games of 2016, that includes Week 1 at Washington, Week 2 vs Cincinnati, and Week 3 at Philadelphia. Bell now will be eligible to play Week 4 vs the Kansas City Chiefs.
Steelers star receiver Martavis Bryant is also out for the entire season due to a drug-related suspension.
Losing both Bell and Bryant is severely damaging to one of the NFL's best offenses when those two are on the field, along with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.