Ben Roethlisberger: Le'Veon Bell situation was a 'distraction' that hurt the Steelers

For the first time since the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at the playoffs from the wrong side. They missed playing football in 2019 by just half a game, and are staring at a long offseason that’s starting earlier than they wanted. That’s a lot of time to examine what went wrong and how they ended up missing the playoffs by such a small margin.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already started his examination. And it’s not surprising that Le’Veon Bell’s name came up. Bell, the Steelers’ All Pro running back, sat out the entire season when he refused to sign his franchise tender.

Roethlisberger thinks the Bell situation hurt the Steelers, but not for the reason you think. He elaborated on Tuesday during his weekly segment on KDKA-FM. Via Trib Live:

“It hurts you when you don’t have one of the better players in the game,” Roethlisberger said, “but I think the biggest thing that hurts us was that it was a distraction. At his position we got to see James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and I thought we got to see guys come into their own and see a glimpse of the future. I was really encouraged about life without Le’Veon.”

“Life Without Le’Veon” should be the title of the Steelers’ highlight video for the 2018 season, because Roethlisberger is right on the money: they didn’t really miss his production. This season, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 1,229 rushing yards, 696 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. That’s pretty similar to what Bell did in 2017, when he had 1,291 rushing yards, 655 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. And on top of that, JuJu Smith-Schuster improved on his 2017, and Antonio Brown had another great season (except for that last week, of course). Bell’s absence didn’t seem to impact the Steelers on the field at all.

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Le'Veon Bell through his career
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Le'Veon Bell through his career
ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans scores on a 41 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game aginst the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans runs the ball in the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State runs the 40-yard dash during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Leveon Bell attends the 10th Annual ESPN The Magazine Pre-Draft Party at The IAC Building on April 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 10: Injured running back Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the sideline during a preseason game against the New York Giants at Heinz Field on August 10, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Giants defeated the Steelers 18-13. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers is tackled by Kyle Wilson, New York Jets, during the New York Jets V Pittsburgh Steelers NFL regular season game at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, USA. 13th October 2013. Photo Tim Clayton (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 22: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up before a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 22, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Steelers defeated the Packers 38-31. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 05: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for yardage during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on October 5, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 30: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the New Orleans Saints during the game on November 30, 2014 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 30: Ben Roethlisberger #7 hands the ball off to Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field on November 30, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 14: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs off the field after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 14, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 03: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches the game from the sideline in the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers during the preseason game at Heinz Field on September 3, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
October 25, 2015: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) during the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 26: DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell #26 talk before a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 16: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on before a NFL game against the Miami Dolphins on October 16, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 13: Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le'Veon Bell (26) stretches out to score a touchdown during the NFL Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 13, 2016, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. The Cowboys defeated the Steelers with a final score of 35-30. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up before a game against the New York Giants on December 4, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 25: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) looks on after a NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens on December 25, 2016 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. The Steelers went on to win 31-27, advancing to the playoffs as the AFC's No. 3 seed. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 25: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs out to the field after being introduced during a NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens on December 25, 2016 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. The Steelers went on to win 31-27, advancing to the playoffs as the AFC's No. 3 seed. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tosses the ball forward after gaining a first down against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10, 2017: Running back LeVeon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers laughs as he plays catch with fans prior to a game on September 10, 2017 against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Pittsburgh won 21-18. (Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won 23-17 in overtime. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 01: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Michigan USA, on Sunday, October 29, 2017. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 12: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) watches a video replay during the NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts on November 12, 2017, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 10: Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le'Veon Bell (26) walks in before the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 10, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 10: Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le'Veon Bell (26) looks on during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 10, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 14: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs with the ball during the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 14, 2018 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 14: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field on January 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 28: Runningback Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the AFC Team as he arrives to the NFL Pro Bowl Game at Camping World Stadium on January 28, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
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To Roethlisberger, the bigger issue is that the Bell situation was a distraction to the team. The deadline for Bell to sign his franchise tender was mid-November, just before Week 11. That’s 10 weeks of Bell drama, plus the preseason. Would he sign? Would he show up? Or would he continue his holdout? What did he tweet today? Steelers players and coach Mike Tomlin tried to play it off as best as they could, but for three months, Le’Veon Bell not playing was the only Steelers news anyone wanted to talk about.

It’s hard to know how much that affected the team, but it played a big enough role that Roethlisberger felt the need to mention it just a day after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs. While the team’s ultimate goal for 2019 will (of course) be winning the Super Bowl, avoiding another drama-filled campaign is likely close to the top of that goals list.

Related: See each playoff team's odds of winning it all: 

12 PHOTOS
Super Bowl LIII championship odds for each playoff team
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Super Bowl LIII championship odds for each playoff team

Philadelphia Eagles: 25/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts: 25/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks: 25/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Houston Texans: 25/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys: 25/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Chargers: 16/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens: 14/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

Chicago Bears: 8/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

New England Patriots: 6/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams: 5/1 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: 9/2 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

New Orleans Saints: 5/2 odds

Via Vegas Insider

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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