No Bell ringing in Pittsburgh for the holidays

PITTSBURGH — Santa Claus is still coming to town. Le’Veon Bell isn’t.

His long holdout officially ended just past 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon when he didn’t show up to sign the contract tender the Steelers offered him months ago.

That means Bell won’t play in the NFL anywhere this season and will probably not wear a Steelers uniform again.

You know what that means — James Conner is the starting running back, and he’s backed up by well-traveled Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels. The $14.5 million the Steelers agreed to pay Bell stays in the bank.

So far all the rumors and false reports and wild guesses, it ends with Bell taking a year off from football and forfeiting his income. The Steelers are dangerously thin at running back for the second half of the season and the playoffs.

Nobody won. Maybe someday Bell will explain how this makes any sense from his perspective. The Steelers played it by the rules of the system, which should have been obvious to Bell and his agent from the start.

Maybe there’s a master plan that will reveal itself in the future. At the moment, it looks like Bell threw away a lot of money in the kind of volatile career that offers only a brief opportunity to make a lot.

The Steelers have been fine without Bell. But there’s no guarantee Conner will continue his current level of production as the season winds down. There’s also no guarantee Conner will stay healthy for the rest of the season running a style that doesn’t shy away from collisions.

Speaking of guarantees, we don’t really know what to expect from Ridley and Samuels. Ridley has averaged more than four yards per carry in four of his pro seasons (in limited work). He’s also played for four teams in the last five seasons, which is an indication his employers determined they could get along fine without him.

Samuels was chosen on the fifth round of this year’s draft. He has experience at both running back and fullback and has also played tight end and receiver.

It would probably be smart for Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner to work in the other two backs. Give Conner an occasional break, and give the other backs a chance to get a feel for game speed.

In the meantime, there was a purpose in mentioning Santa at the start of this column. He probably has a warehouse full of Steelers jerseys with “Bell 26” on the back.

He may still deliver them, but now they’ll take the place of the lump of coal.

New on the job?

Hue Jackson, recently fired as Cleveland Browns’ head coach, didn’t need a lot of time to find a new job.

Marvin Lewis hired him as a special assistant on his Cincinnati Bengals staff. That’s the same Marvin Lewis who has not won a playoff game in his 15 seasons with the Bengals.

Hard to see how adding Jackson to the staff is going to make things better.

Double tragedy

Former pro wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino died on April 18 at age 82 after a year or two of failing health.

The family’s tragic year took another sad turn last week when Daniel Sammartino, one of Bruno and Carol Sammartino’s twin sons, died at 50.

Daniel once had ambitions to follow his father into wrestling. When Bruno found out about that, he put his foot down and strongly suggested his son pursue another career.

Daniel Sammartino was the owner of a hair salon at the time of his death.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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