Jets new RB Le'Veon Bell was under tons of scrutiny last season for holding out from the Steelers, and declining to sign his franchise tag to play in 2018. But that wasn't his initial plan as he headed into the season.
In an interview with ESPN's Jeremy Fowler this weekend, Bell said he had every intention to return to Steelers camp during the Week 7 bye. But it looks like Bell actually wanted to return to the team after Week 1 following an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated.
"At first I was literally thinking like, 'I don't want to play camp and OTAs' because of the hurt in my body and I'm like, 'I'm not playing,'" Bell told Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas. "When Week 1 comes, I'm going to come, but the things that kind of led up to Week 1, I starting thinking, 'I'm not going to play Week 1.' After even Week 1, it started to build up and it's not making me feel comfortable."
Bell wouldn't say exactly what made him begin his quest to hold out all season, but he said the feeling of not being welcomed back with open arms kept him from making the trip back to the facility.
The 27-year-old did return to his Pittsburgh home before Week 10, where it was once believed he had to return to the Steelers if he wished to become a free agent. That wasn't the case, though, with Bell learning from social media that the Steelers would have to tag him again this offseason or he would hit the market.
Still, Bell was on the brink of making the trip into the office.
I was so close to doing it," Bell told Fowler. "At the same time, I was so torn. Do I go through that? Will they embrace me or will they not? I eventually decided I sat out 10 games, I can sit six more. At the time, the team was malfunctioning, having problems, a lot of blame on me. I didn't want to come back and not feel welcome."
Bell eventually went to sign a four-year, $52.5 million deal with $25 million in guaranteed money with the Jets.