Berea, Ohio — Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers are at odds, battling and bickering over money. It’s a football family fight.
The Browns won’t play peacemakers.
“They can beat each other up for all we care,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday. “It does not matter.”
But Bell’s absence from Sunday’s season opener between the AFC North neighbors could have a major impact on Cleveland’s chances of ending a 17-game losing streak — and perhaps infuse a little life into a dormant rivalry.
Bell, the former Michigan State star, still hasn’t joined his teammates as the Pro Bowl running back continues his holdout for a new contract. The stare-down between the sides has reached a critical juncture — and either a breaking or turning point — as the Steelers are days away from opening a new season.
When the 26-year-old Bell didn’t report to the team and sign his $14.5 million one-year contract tender earlier this week, several of the team’s offensive linemen voiced their displeasure toward a player they normally do all they can to protect.
“Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, so I guess we’ll treat it as such,” veteran guard Ramon Foster said. “I just hate it came to this.”
The Browns aren’t complaining.
Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t the same without Bell, one of the NFL’s best offensive players who ran for 1,291 yards last season despite missing training camp after reporting just a few days before the opener in Cleveland.
No Bell at all would seem to give the Browns an edge.
“He’s a talented player,” said defensive end Myles Garrett, who sat out last season’s first game with a serious ankle sprain. “He’s one of the best in the league at his position, so it definitely is an advantage to us. That’s up to him.”
Bell wasn’t himself in last year’s opener, rushing for just 32 yards on 10 carries and catching three passes for 15 yards. But because he’s Le’Veon Bell, the Browns had to account for him on every play.
“He’s a great player so he is always going to be a focal point,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “I just think that we game-planned well. I think that (defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) had a good game plan for us to attack their offense. I just think that if it was him or any other running back, we were going to try to shut them down.”
Pittsburgh will turn to second-year back James Conner to replace Bell and start. Conner, who survived a cancer scare while in college, had just 32 carries as a rookie. But the Browns been watching a lot of video on him and have been impressed.
“They are different,” Jackson said, comparing Bell and Conner. “The other guy is a proven, top of the line, one of the top players in the league. Not that James Conner is not that, he just has not done it to the level that Le’Veon has.
“For their offense, he knows how to play in their system. He is a good football player. He will make plays for them. We have to do everything that we can to shut down the run game, whether it is Le’Veon or whether it is James Conner. Just have to do our job on defense the best hat we can.”
Of course, the Steelers still have future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown to offset Bell’s loss.
And while the Browns won’t miss Bell, receiver Jarvis Landry did offer support for the back’s financial plea.
“Pay the man,” Landry said.
In other news, Jackson will announce his starting tackle on Friday, but the Browns may have tipped their hand with a waiver claim. The team grabbed defensive lineman Anthony Zettel from the Lions and released backup center Aaron Neary.
Sherman foresees lockout
A day after the 49ers elected Richard Sherman their player representative, the veteran cornerback believes a lockout is coming when the NFL collective bargaining agreement expires.
“It’s going to happen, so it’s not like guys are guessing,” Sherman said before the 49ers’ workout Thursday.
The current CBA between players and NFL owners doesn’t expire until after the 2020 season, but there have been rumblings that players might dig in their heels in order to get certain economic changes, including more guaranteed money in contracts.
Owners locked out the players for four months during the 2011 offseason, but the sides eventually hammered out a 10-year deal before the regular season was jeopardized.
Cowboy upbeat on illness
While Travis Frederick has no idea when his football career will resume, the Dallas Cowboys center is just relieved that he found out what was wrong when he was diagnosed with a nerve disorder.
Frederick, a four-time Pro Bowler, doesn’t want to say that his presence on the active roster, rather than injured reserve, means he could come back sooner than the eight weeks required by an IR designation.
Frederick is getting treated for Guillain-Barre syndrome, an auto-immune disease that attacks nerves and leads to weakness in various parts of the body.
“I wish I was lying to you by telling you that,” Frederick said Thursday in his first meeting with reporters since the diagnosis. “I have some of the best doctors in the business working on this and they can’t even begin to predict how this is going to work. It really is a week-by-week thing.”
Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey has revealed that he has been undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.
... Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa did not practice Thursday, leaving his status for the opener against Kansas City in doubt.
NFL Week 1
Philadelphia 18, Atlanta 12
San Francisco at Minnesota, 1 (Fox)
Houston at New England, 1 (CBS)
Pittsburgh at Cleveland, 1
Cincinnati at Indianapolis, 1
Jacksonville at N.Y. Giants, 1
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, 1
Buffalo at Baltimore, 1
Tennessee at Miami, 1
Kansas City at L.A. Chargers, 4:05
Dallas at Carolina, 4:25 (FOX)
Seattle at Denver, 4:25
Washington at Arizona, 4:25
Chicago at Green Bay, 8:20 (NBC)
N.Y. Jets at Detroit, 7:10 (ESPN)
L.A. Rams at Oakland, 10:20 (ESPN)