The divergent journeys of Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown from Steelers to Super Bowl 55
When the Steelers selected Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they created a talented trio that eventually became known as the “Killer B’s.” Bell and Antonio Brown emerged as arguably the best players at their positions, and Ben Roethlisberger was a perennial Pro Bowler.
During his Super Bowl 55 media availability this week, Bell admitted he always assumed that he would be competing for a championship while wearing a Steelers jersey.
“Obviously when we were in Pittsburgh, we wasn’t envisioning being in the Super Bowl somewhere else,” Bell said.Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the rise of the “Killer B’s” was only matched by the implosion a few years later.Because of the timing of their exits, it’s easy to lump together the journeys of Bell and Brown, now members of the Chiefs and Buccaneers, respectively. But the truth is that, aside from starring for and unceremoniously leaving the same team, they shouldn’t be compared.MORE: Brown, Bell and 7 others who can win first Super Bowl ringWhy did Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown leave the Steelers?Bell played the 2017 season under the franchise tag, totaling nearly 2,000 rushing and receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He made it clear he wouldn’t do it for a second consecutive year, but the Steelers tagged him again anyway.That led to a standoff ahead of the 2018 campaign. While there were reports seemingly every week about the possibility of Bell’s return, he never showed up. The Jets signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract the following offseason.Brown’s departure was much more bizarre. He was benched during the final week of the 2018 season after posting a ridiculous line of 14 catches, 185 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16 against the Saints. This had nothing to do with performance — the Steelers were simply fed up with his behavior and lack of communication. The issues between Brown and the Steelers had been “brewing for years,” and this was the last straw.Pittsburgh’s front office pursued a trade, ultimately sending Brown to then-Oakland Raiders for a third- and fifth-round pick. Brown signed a three-year deal worth $50 million with the Raiders.How did Le’Veon Bell end up on the Chiefs?After joining the Jets, Bell’s relationship with Adam Gase started off poorly and only continued to get worse throughout his brief stint in New York. Multiple reports indicated the then-head coach didn’t want to spend big money on a running back, and Gase and Bell clashed on his injury status and touches.The Jets released Bell in October 2020 less than halfway through his deal. He averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry with just four total touchdowns in 17 games. He quickly found a new home in Kansas City, and while he hasn’t been a major producer for one of the NFL’s elite offensive units, he doesn’t regret the path he took.”I feel like me sitting out, how I look at it is it helped me on the back end of my career,” Bell said (via NFL.com). “The year that I came back, last year, it felt like I was a rookie all over again. I was so excited to get back on the field, get my gatherings back. I don’t know, it kind of like reset my body. I feel like it’s going to help me for the end of my career, elongate my career.”How did Antonio Brown end up on the Buccaneers?Sporting News published a thorough timeline of events when Brown made his Bucs debut, but here’s the abridged version.Much like the Steelers, the Raiders got sick of Brown’s unpredictable nature. He had foot problems as a result of a cryotherapy machine mishap and plenty of helmet-related drama. He also missed team workouts, shared a video of a private conversation with coach Jon Gruden and lashed out at general manager Mike Mayock. The Raiders cut Brown loose in September 2019 after he posted a release request on Instagram.The Patriots scooped up Brown on a one-year contract prior to the start of the 2019 season, but he only played one game for New England before being released amid sexual assault allegations. Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in September 2019 alleging Brown sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018. Brown denied “each and every allegation in the lawsuit” and said the two had consensual sex. (The suit is still ongoing.) Brown was also accused of sexual misconduct by a female artist who was working at Brown’s home in 2017. She claimed Brown sent her threatening text messages following the accusation.Brown went unsigned through the end of that season, and the NFL handed him an eight-game suspension for multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy. The punishment stemmed from the misconduct allegations and multiple charges related to a January 2020 physical altercation involving a truck driver outside of his Florida home. Tampa Bay signed Brown in October 2020, serving his suspension before taking the field for the first time in a Bucs uniform on Nov. 8, 2020.Why comparing Bell and Brown is wrongContract disputes happen all the time, and it happened with Bell and the Steelers. Pittsburgh didn’t offer him what he wanted. He sat out, then left. He accepted the consequences of sitting out a year of his prime, and he’s happy with where he stands now. With Brown, the details are far more disturbing. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, Brown decided to paint a picture of a man overcoming “adversity.””It’s been a long journey over the course of you know, a year-and-a half of scrutiny, adversity, you name it,” Brown said during his Super Bowl media session (via CBS Sports). “I’ve been through it, but it didn’t stop me. I didn’t want to give up. I just got persistent, made a plan, wrote out my goals, set my intention of what I want out of my life and just took a step back. … “I’m grateful to be in this moment, but I know there’s still a long way to go.”
I will add to this: What Antonio Brown has been through over the last year and a half was of his own doing, he hasn’t taken accountability for it. He was given many chances in his media session today to do so, and didn’t.
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) February 3, 2021Both Bell and Brown are no longer stars. They may not log many snaps in Super Bowl 55 because Bell isn’t an integral piece of the offense and Brown is recovering from a knee injury sustained during the divisional round. They once played for the Steelers, and now they don’t.But that’s where the comparisons should end. Putting them in the same basket is unfair to Bell and allows Brown to skate on by without addressing what he’s done.There was a time when Bell couldn’t envision a Super Bowl scenario without Brown by his side. Now they couldn’t be further apart.