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Le'Veon Bell says he was 'petty' during Steelers contract standoff, but wants to retire in Pittsburgh

It has been more than five years since Le'Veon Bell's last game in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, and that distance allowed for plenty of reflection during the former Pro Bowl running back's recent appearance on a podcast.

Speaking with the "Steel Here" podcast in an episode posted Friday, Bell made some wild confessions about his time in the NFL, which appears to be all but over as he pursues a boxing career. He did not appear in the NFL last season after splitting 2021 with the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Most surprising was Bell, now 31, saying he never wanted to leave the Steelers, but that he especially regretted it after realizing what he sacrificed to maximize his guaranteed money during contract negotiations:

"I didn't want to leave Pittsburgh, because at the end of the day, that's where I was at. That's where I got drafted. Especially after going to different teams and seeing how it is, it's like when the team has their guy, you're their guy. I was Pittsburgh's guy.

"Now I see this thing like, 'Bro." it was a little petty ... The guarantee stuff in the first time, I’m thinking, 'Damn, could I really have just ate [the money]? Yeah, I probably could’ve."

Bell's final season on the field for the Steelers was in 2017, when he earned his third career Pro Bowl honors while playing on the franchise tag. The Steelers tagged him again for 2018, leading Bell to refuse to sign the required deal and sitting out the entire season while seeking a high-priced extension.

Once Pittsburgh declined to tag Bell for 2019, he was a free agent and was reported to be seeking the richest running back contract in NFL history. He didn't get that, instead landing with the New York Jets on a four-year, $52.5 million contract with $35 million guaranteed.

Le'Veon Bell criticizes Adam Gase (again), says he smoked weed before games

You could say the beginning of Bell's downfall was when he didn't sign on the dotted line for the Steelers, but it came no later than his first meeting with then-Jets head coach Adam Gase, whom Bell infamously sparred with during a Jets tenure that ended up lasting only a season and a half before the team cut him. As you might imagine, Bell still isn't a fan of Gase:

“Head coaches make a huge difference. As soon as I get to New York I find that out like the first week ... Bro, the team wasn't that great, don't get me wrong, but I feel like if coach [Mike] Tomlin was coaching that team, we win nine games at least. It's to the point where [quarterback] Sam Darnold doesn't know the line's protections because he's so confused about our offense because the coach is confusing him.”

Even though Gase was to blame for many of the Jets' shortcomings, Bell's subsequent career didn't do much to convince the public his talents had gone to waste. He ran for a total of 355 yards and four touchdowns in his final 17 games with the Kansas City Chiefs, Ravens and Bucs.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 02:  Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers attends SiriusXM at Super Bowl LII Radio Row at the Mall of America on February 2, 2018 in Bloomington, Minnesota.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Le'Veon Bell has a few regrets over how he handled negotiations with the Steelers. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Bell also admitted he would smoke marijuana before playing games, a habit in which he was probably not alone among players in the league:

"Looking back on this, that's what I did. When I was playing football, I smoked, bro. Even before the games, I'd smoke and I'd go out there and run for 150, two [touchdowns]."

Le'Veon Bell wants to retire a Steeler

Even though his Steelers career ended in a rough way, Bell is apparently still nostalgic for his time in Pittsburgh and would like to play in one more preseason game as a Steeler before officially hanging up his cleats:

"I never really officially retired. On the day when I do retire, it's going to be with Pittsburgh. I'm going to try to retire with Pittsburgh. But before I do that, I might be like, 'Hey bro, let me get a couple of carries in the preseason so I can show y'all.'"

The only question is if the feeling is mutual, with the fans and the Steelers organization. Time heals all wounds, though, and the Steelers can hardly say they regret him leaving at this point.