By Christina Rivers
It is never pretty when a player leaves the field before his team has finished on his own accord, with no injury other than his pride. On Monday night, that is exactly what running back LeGarrette Blount did. Before Le’Veon Bell set up Ben Roethlisberger for the kneel to win the game, 27-24, Blount exited the field, dressed and was out the door. According to multiple reports, including one from Steelers insider Ed Bouchette, Blount was asked to return to the locker room more than once by linebackers coach Joey Porter. It didn’t take long for Blount to excuse himself again, leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to make a decision to release him on Tuesday. Following his release, the rumor mill rippled across the league as to what the Steelers will do next.
“We believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement released by the team.
Fellow AFC North running back Ben Tate was cut after just 12 games with his 2014 team – the Cleveland Browns – on Tuesday. His release came a day after Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine refused to disclose whether it was an attitude issue or that he felt that the Browns had better options in Terrance West and undrafted rookies Isaiah Crowell and Glenn Winston. Tate has been vocal lately about a lack of opportunities, and there is some speculation that Pettine was unhappy with the chatter. In June, Tate told reporters, “Honestly, I’m not worried…I know when I’m on my game – no disrespect to any other running back here – but there’s no one that can touch me or that’s close to what I do.” Tate netted negative nine yards on two carries in the Browns’ 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans and got into two heated debates with reporters.
After releasing Blount, it is highly unlikely that the Steelers will look to bring on yet another disgruntled running back in Tate, despite the rumors that Pittsburgh has shown interest. The Steelers would likely only consider him if he cleared waivers, dumping the remaining estimated $352,000 of his guaranteed base salary. Even then, the deal looks like a very long shot.
The Steelers moved rookie Dri Archer up the depth chart behind Bell and promoted Josh Harris from the practice squad. Archer has been under-utilized for much of the season outside of the scat-back position and in screen plays. The small but speedy back could give the Steelers another dimension to their offensive attack, but will require some adjustment in the playbook. Harris went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, being added to the Pittsburgh roster as a free agent in July. Harris played in 43 games for Wake Forest, leading the team in rushing with 489 carries for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.
Safety Mike Mitchell was one of few Steelers players who vocally supported Blount as not being interested in his own stats over team welfare. “I actually know him, and a lot of people don’t know him,” said Mitchell. “He is not a selfish guy at all. He is a competitive guy who wants to be on the field, wants to win games, wants to help us win games. It’s a bad perception I think he gets a lot of times, but he has to be smarter in that situation.” Interestingly, Mitchell had a case of his own bad behavior following the game. Allegedly, Mitchell’s frustration over fan reaction boiled over and led to him telling at least one person “kill yourself”. KDKA-TVs Rich Walsh questioned Mitchell about the messages, to which Mitchell responded, “If people tweet me, I tweet them back.” Sources have verified that the Steelers have advised Mitchell to remain off of social media indefinitely.
Rumors are likely to continue during a tumultuous time in the Steelers’ continuing weeks of the 2014 NFL regular season as the league’s teams fight for playoff contention. The message from the Pittsburgh front office appears to be a strong reminder to keep attitudes in check.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.