Steelers’ Stevan Ridley understands Le’Veon Bell’s decision
Like everyone else in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room, Stevan Ridley was following the much-discussed Le’Veon Bell saga.
Ridley, though, was the only one who had his livelihood at stake.
Bell did not sign the team’s franchise-player tag by Tuesday’s league-mandated deadline, so Ridley kept his job as a Steelers running back.
And although he respects Bell and his decision and stresses he wants whatever is best for Bell and the team, Ridley has the look of a man who couldn’t be happier.
“Right now, I’m just trying my best to go get a championship,” the 29-year-old Ridley said. “And I’ll bring support, playing, advice, whatever I can. Just being that team guy, because I have been on this road, I have been (to a Super Bowl) twice, and I know we’ve got everything we need here.
“I think we have a chance to do something special, so I am so happy to be here, but we have to do it every week. That’s how I look at it. It’s not really my time, so I am just taking it day by day. It could be over at any moment, you know?”
For Ridley, his 2018 season — and, perhaps, football career — could have been over at any moment all season until 4 p.m. Tuesday. The logical assumption is Ridley would have been cut had Bell joined the team.
That would have left him unemployed late in a season for the third consecutive year. At this point last year, Ridley admits he questioned if it was over then. But the Steelers offered a lifeline after James Conner suffered an MCL tear in his knee Dec. 17.
Ridley had been out of work for 2 ½ months at that point and hadn’t appeared in a regular-season game that autumn. But the Steelers signed him for the final two regular-season games plus the playoffs.
Ridley showed enough in his 26 carries (108 yards, one touchdown) that the Steelers brought him back in 2018. But there were no guarantees, certainly none if Bell showed.
Bell never signed, Ridley held off a bevy of younger backs during training camp, and here he is, ready for another stretch run and a shot at a second Super Bowl ring.
“I’ve been to four AFC championship games in a row (2011-14 with New England),” Ridley said. “I feel the same way about this team. I like the team. I really do. So I am excited, man.”
Ridley had a good relationship with Bell. But now that the what-ifs surrounding Bell — and the possible unemployment for Ridley — ended this week, Ridley seems relieved.
“It was hard if I thought about it,” Ridley said. “But I pretty much have come to the peace, bro, that they are gonna do what they are gonna do. And you just have to be ready for it and ready to adjust.”
Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels are the options behind Conner, who has been one of the NFL’s most productive backs this season. With a recent bump up in Samuels’ snaps, Ridley might have fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart, somethinghe understands and respects.
Ridley also understands and respects Bell’s decision to forgo $14.5 million to play for the Steelers this season. He sees a bit of himself in Bell in that he rushed for more than 2,000 yards over the 2012-13 seasons but still had another year of service time to accrue before he gained free agency status.
So when he tore an ACL and MCL during Week 6 of his walk year, his earning potential plummeted. Perhaps if Ridley had an option to sit out that season, he would have gotten a big signing bonus as a free agent the next spring.
Instead, Ridley took a pay cut to sign with the Jets and has never landed a big contract, playing for five teams over the next four seasons.
“I don’t knock 2-6 (Bell) at all,” Ridley said, “because I look at it, I got hurt in my contract year, and I know what I missed. So I look at things differently, but I am also a team guy. I just respected the decision that 2-6 makes that he’s cool with. I don’t want nothing bad. I don’t want anything against him.
“But the guys that we have in the room are ready. … Our running backs room is solid. Could it have been better? Sure. But that’s not how the Lord planned it. That’s not how it’s going to work out. And we can’t sulk on it. We’re just rolling with what we’ve got and keep pushing.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.