Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell could be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for skipping his random drug tests, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
“Sources close to the situation tell me Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's drug policy,” Graziano writes. “The suspension is the result of a MISSED drug test, not a failed one, and the reason it hasn't yet been announced is that the appeal process is still going on.”
Bell was suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season after he was caught driving under the influence and in possession of marijuana with then-teammate and now Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount.
Bell tweeted the below message out on 4/20 this offseason, the date commonly associated with marijuana usage:
Bell’s Twitter account is private, but you can still find the tweet via Google.
Losing Bell would be another loss for the Steelers offense, which will be without #2 wide receiver Martavis Bryant for the entire season. Bryant was suspended for the entire year per the league’s substance abuse policy.
Bell is considered one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the league and his loss will certainly be felt by Pittsburgh. Notorious Patriots hater DeAngelo Williams is a capable back in his own right and he played extremely well while Bell was suspended and subsequently lost for the season with torn ligaments in his knee in 2015. Looks like Williams knew what he was talking about when he said, “everybody has their problems.”
But Williams is not Bell and Markus Wheaton is not Bryant, so the Steelers potent offense will be slightly weaker in 2016, if only for the first four weeks.
And this is huge for the Patriots.
New England will be without quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games, which forces the Patriots to play catch-up for the rest of the season. The Steelers are considered the Patriots biggest competition in the AFC, with the reigning champion Broncos currently without a quarterback and some big changes on defense.
The Steelers opening schedule is brutal, with a prime time game on the road against NFC East champion Washington, a week two home game against the division rival Bengals, a road game against the Eagles, and then another prime time game at home against the Chiefs. Those are three teams that made the playoffs in 2015 and an Eagles team that could cause problems.
If the Steelers drop a game or two without Bell, then the Patriots deficit caused by the Brady suspension would be lessened and then New England would have a better chance at making a run at a first round bye or homefield advantage.
I would have placed the Steelers as the top choice to get homefield advantage in the AFC if Bell were available, but I think it’s less clear with his possible suspension. The Patriots odds at homefield advantage and, as a result, odds of making the Super Bowl have to be improved with this news.
This will likely not affect the week 7 match-up between the Patriots and Steelers, unless something weird happens with Bell’s appeal and it lingers into the start of the season.