The Steelers will begin the 2015 season without their top running back. The NFL has suspended RB LeVeon Bell for three games without pay for violating its substance-abuse policy, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.
Bell has appealed the ruling, ESPN reported. The tailback has also been docked a fourth game check by the league, per Schefter.
If the suspension holds, Bell can take part in preseason games and training camp before serving his ban away from the club.
Bell’s suspension stems from a DUI charge last summer. He was sentenced to probation, and the charge, along with a marijuana possession count, can be removed from his record if he completes 15 months of service. His former Steelers teammate, LeGarrette Blount, has garnered a one-game suspension for the incident.
Obviously losing Bell for any stretch is a major blow to the Steelers offense. Bell emerged as one of the game’s star dual threats at the position in 2014, racking up more than 2,000 rushing-receiving yards. Ex-Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams figures to have a bigger role with Bell out of the Pittsburgh lineup to begin next season. This could drop Bell a few slots come draft time, but given his workload and last year's success, he should still be a very desirable draft-day selection.
“The thing you’ve got to be careful about in this league is you can’t rely on one player at one position,’’ Rivera said during the NFC coaches breakfast. “Running back has definitely been proven that you’ve got to have a good two-back tandem.
“And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for that complement to Jonathan.’’
Stewart averaged 18.3 carries per game in the final seven games of the season (averaging 97.0 rushing yards and 0.29 TD per game). Those are #9 RB numbers in PPR formats, so even if Stewart's carries are limited to 16-17 per game (15 carries plus 1-2 receptions), he should still provide solid RB2 production.
Update: The deal is for $4 million over two years, but is effectively $2 million for one year, per Jason La Canfora.
LeVeon Bell is facing a 2-4 game suspension and the Williams signing makes Bell more appealing as a 1.01 or 1.02 pick since he can provide starter-caliber numbers while Bell is sidelined. Over the past two seasons, Williams has averaged 12.4 PPR fantasy points in the eight games where he's touched the ball at least 15 times. That equates to high-end RB2 numbers, so he should be able to carry the load while Bell is suspended.
Williams told WBTV in an exclusive interview Monday that he was cut by the Panthers last week during a meeting with coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman.
"We sat down, and he told me, 'The fact of the matter is we're going to have to release you,'" Williams told the station. "I said, you know, 'Why?' and he said, 'Because we don't run the ball enough. Just like you said back before the season started, we don't run the ball enough to keep you and [Jonathan Stewart] both, so we're going to release you.'"
Carolina will save $2 million in salary-cap space by designating Williams as a post-June 1 cut. Williams has one year left on his deal and is scheduled to count $6.3 million against the 2015 salary cap.
Jonathan Stewart was tremendous down the stretch, averaging 105 total yards (97.0 rushing) in the final seven games, including two playoff games. He averaged 5.30 YPC in that span, including 5.13 YPC versus Arizona and 5.38 YPC against Seattle in the playoffs. Over the final five games of the regular season, he was the #10 fantasy running back. He turns 28 in March, so there is definitely some tread left on his tires. Even though he has missed 20 percent of his team's games due to injury throughout the career, he'll be a high-upside pick with Williams out of the way.
GM Dave Gettleman said he wanted to sit down with DeAngelo Williams before saying anything publicly about the status of the franchise’s all-time rushing leader. Last year, Gettleman was widely criticized for his noncommittal comments about Steve Smith’s future with the team before talking to the Panthers’ popular, all-time receiving leader.
“I need to talk to DeAngelo, I really do. He’s a pro’s pro, and he had a tough season,” Gettleman said. “The obvious loss of his mom was very, very difficult. He only played six (regular season) games this year, and it was tough for him. Before I say anything, just know he’s a pro’s pro. And the way he finished the season, he finished it like a man.”
Williams, who turns 32 in April, finished with career lows in every major rushing category after battling injuries most of the season. When Williams returned from a broken hand in December, he was reduced to part-time work behind Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker.
Jonathan Stewart was tremendous down the stretch, averaging 105 total yards (97.0 rushing) in the final seven games, including two playoff games. He averaged 5.30 YPC in that span, including 5.13 YPC versus Arizona and 5.38 YPC against Seattle in the playoffs. Over the final five games of the regular season, he was the #10 fantasy running back. He turns 28 in March, so there is definitely some tread left on his tires. Even though he has missed 20 percent of his team's games throughout the career, he'll be a high-upside pick if Williams is let go.
Friday, January 2, 2015, 5:04pm
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand, probable) took full practice reps all week and is probable for Week 18. Williams is going to play, but Jonathan Stewart is expected to continue to serve as the lead back against Arizona. He has averaged 19.6 touches since Week 13.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart returned to practice Wednesday and having the day off on Tuesday, and he’s expected to start and get the majority of carries when the Panthers face the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday in the wild-card playoff game.
There’s been discussion on how the Panthers would split the carries between the red-hot Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, who’s recovering from a broken bone in his hand. Stewart didn’t seem concerned about that Wednesday.
“Whatever the offensive coordinator (decides) and whatever the plan is for the game, that’s how we run things,” Stewart said. “You just do your part and just worry about that.”
Stewart was the #10 fantasy running back from Week 13 to Week 17, and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in that span. Williams has been out for a while and averaged just 3.5 YPC on 62 carries this season.
Panthers HC Ron Rivera was coy about the running back rotation before the Week 17 win at Atlanta, as well. DeAngelo Williams was listed as probable, but was held out for the fourth straight game with a broken bone in his right hand.
Jonathan Stewart has rushed for 486 yards over the past five games, beginning with the Nov. 30 loss at Minnesota when Williams was hurt. Rivera said he didn't want Williams to aggravate the injury against the Falcons last week.
"I decided we're in a good spot right now," Rivera said. "We've got guys that are 100 percent healthy, and why expose an injury that's something as simple as a nick that could turn into something worse?"
Williams played in only six regular-season games, while a healthy Stewart had his best season since 2009. But Rivera said he's not worried about disrupting the offensive chemistry by working Williams back in the rotation. "No, he's part of our chemistry," Rivera said, according to the story. But Stewart has excelled as the lead back without Williams around, so it remains to be seen if Rivera reverts back to both RBs. It's not a friendly matchup against the Cards, which could tempt Rivera to change things up.
Friday, December 26, 2014, 6:53pm
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand, probable) took full practice reps all week and is probable for Week 17. Williams is on track to play but the team is apparently concerned about his ability to pass protect. Jonathan Stewart’s RB1-type workload seems safe.
Friday, December 19, 2014, 6:02pm
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 16. Williams will be used in an emergency-only capacity. Jonathan Stewart is averaging 19.0 touches in the last three games and is averaging 5.8 YPC in that span. He’s a solid fantasy RB2.
Thursday, December 18, 2014, 6:14pm
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand) took limited practice reps again Thursday. Williams may make his return this week, but isn’t much of a fantasy option, especially with Jonathan Stewart running well. Stewart is averaging 19.0 touches in the last three games and is averaging 5.8 YPC in that span. Williams will be fitted for a cast, so don’t expect much in the passing game.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 5:57pm
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand) took limited practice reps Wednesday. Williams may make his return this week, but isn’t much of a fantasy option, especially with Jonathan Stewart running well. Stewart is averaging 19.0 touches in the last three games and is averaging 5.8 YPC in that span.
Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:26pm
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (hip, probable) took full practice reps again Friday and is probable for Week 15. Stewart should see another big workload if DeAngelo Williams continues to miss time. He racked up 155 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries last week, and has averaged 15.7 touches (and 78 total yards) in his last six games without Williams in the lineup.
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