Is Kendrell Bell Hurt Again!? - By Mark Mihalko
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|As we sit here on the eve of another NFL season, we are all full of optimism. Looking at the Steelers final 53 man roster it is clear that we have a nice group of veterans in place to bring along our youth. The Steelers are definitely getting younger!
When we open the season tomorrow against the hated Oakland Raiders, some inexperienced players will be counted on to make a significant impact, especially on defense. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope jump out at first glance. But they are not the only ones. Veteran LB Clark Haggans also enters the season entrenched as a starter for the first time. It will be interesting to see how our inexperienced defense holds up against the Raiders.
The insertion of Polamalu, Hope and Haggans was a planned change for our defense. Getting younger and faster is the key to success in today's NFL. However, announcing LB Larry Foote as the starter at ILB came as a surprise.
I know he is only starting because LB Kendrell Bell is once again nursing an injury. So, when was the last time Bell made a significant impact for the Steelers defense? Try his rookie season when he won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Sure he played in all 16 games last season, he even finished second on the team in tackles. But he was nowhere near as explosive as he was as a rookie. Now his latest setback, Bell has a combination of a chronic shoulder condition and a pulled groin muscle which has limited him throughout the offseason. Not a good thing for a linebacker entering the final year of his contract, especially when he is looking for a signing bonus in the $10 million range.
The Steelers announced that they were working on contract extensions for Bell and Fellow LB James Farrior at the beginning of training camp. Going into the season with both inside linebackers eligible for free agency at the end of the season would not be beneficial to the Steelers.
After some negotiation, they locked up Farrior. A smart move by the front office, Farrior was clearly the most complete and consistent linebacker on the field last season. Unfortunately, their negotiations with Bell went nowhere. Bell and his agent expect the Steelers to pay a king's ransom for his services next season and beyond, a price that he hasn't earned.
When healthy Bell can be an impact player, he has a rare combination of size, speed and explosiveness which can be devastating to opposing offenses. Sadly, the Steelers have only seen flashes of the explosiveness since his breakout rookie season.
The front office definitely got this one right. By not giving into Bell and his agent, they have positioned themselves to possibly sign Bell in the offseason closer to his actual value, not some over-inflated contract that his agent was pushing for. Of course Bell and his injuries are helping as well.
Sure, some team will probably want to pay a double digit signing bonus to Bell, and this may be his last season in Black and Gold. If that happens, the front office can turn their attention to extending Hines Ward's contract or maybe even re-signing WR Plaxico Burress. Keeping the wide receiving corps intact for Big Ben is probably be more important then breaking the bank on an inconsistent linebacker.