On Le'Veon vs. Eddie, Cowher on Cam

Posted Feb 12, 2016

Bill Cowher was the only CBS analyst to explain how his 1st Super Bowl could affect Cam Newton.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* Let’s turn back the clock to the occasion of the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Steelers were shopping for a running back, having just endured a season in which the guys they had lined up at that position were “just guys.” Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and the Rashard Mendenhall who hadn’t shown up for a Dec. 9 game vs. San Diego after learning he was inactive and would soon lose all interest in football and retire.

* When the Steelers’ turn came, they had the pick of their litter, because the only running back selected had been Giovani Bernard – by the Cincinnati Bengals – but his skill-set had him viewed as more of a complementary guy than a fit for the role they were looking to fill.

* There were a lot of names, but only two real candidates. And as usual, Steelers Nation had picked a side. If this had been an election – one man, one vote – the Steelers’ running back of the future would’ve been Eddie Lacy.

* The Steelers, however, are not a democracy, and their choice was Le’Veon Bell. With Todd Haley as the still-relatively-new offensive coordinator, the Steelers were looking for more than a running back, even though Lacy had shown himself to be a very good one at a top college program. They were looking for a yards-from-scrimmage guy, a back who could catch it as well as run it.

* Had there been a soundtrack to the Steelers’ pick, it would’ve been some mixture of groaning and mocking laughter when the team announced Le’Veon Bell as its selection. But as the 2015 season came to a conclusion it was looking as though the Steelers had done the right thing.

* When healthy, Bell is the best all-around back in football. His blend of running and receiving skills are unique at the position, and this blend is the best backfield complement to an offense with Ben Roethlisberger, but Bell’s critics and the charter members of the Eddie Lacy Fan Club will build their argument around that qualifier at the beginning of this sentence. Yes, Bell has finished each of the last two seasons on the injured reserve list with injuries to ligaments in his knees, but after seeing how both of those happened it’s fair to identify them as the normal hazards of the job.

* What’s squarely in Bell’s favor is his early acceptance of the reality that conditioning is more important than size, within reason, when it comes to becoming a great NFL player, regardless of position. The story goes that it was Mike Tomlin who first explained that reality to Bell at the Scouting Combine, and Bell took the words to heart in losing about 25 pounds from the start of his rookie season to the start of his second NFL season. It was then, in 2014, when Bell totaled 2,215 yards from scrimmage, scored 11 touchdowns, and was voted first-team All-Pro.

* Lacy cannot be termed a bust by any means, but by the end of 2015 it can be fair to label him a disappointment, at least in the eyes of Coach Mike McCarthy. Ian Rappaport of NFL Network reported that the Packers want Lacy to lose 30 pounds, with his current end-of-season weight estimated to be at least 259 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And the suspicion is that the 259 number is actually a low estimate.

* Weight has been an issue for Lacy ever since the Packers drafted him 13 slots after the Steelers had picked Bell back in 2013, but until 2015 it hadn’t impacted his on-field performance. In 2015, however, the Packers coach became sufficiently frustrated with Lacy’s weight issues as he was posting career lows in carries (187), yards (758), yards per carry (4.05), touchdowns (three), catches (20) and receiving yards (188) that McCarthy spoke about it publicly as the season ended.

* McCarthy told, "He's got a lot of work to do. His offseason last year was not good enough, and he never recovered from it. He cannot play at the weight he played at this year."

* Health is always going to be an issue for NFL running backs, and Bell’s last two seasons place him in the category of players looking to do better there. Lacy is in that category as well, but he’s first going to have to lose 30 pounds and then get his conditioning under control and keep it under control through the rest of his career.

* Personally, I would be more worried about Lacy’s ability to adhere to a diet/conditioning regimen as he ages and his metabolism slows down than I would be about Bell sustaining more injuries to the ligaments in his knees. That’s because if Lacy cannot get his weight under control, you’ll start seeing a lot of the soft-tissue injuries that will keep him from practicing/working out, which will make it more difficult to keep his weight under control.

* There were lots of bouquets for the Denver defense in the wake of the Broncos’ victory over Carolina in Super Bowl 50, but where does great defense end and bad offense begin? Because there sure seemed to be a lot of bad offense perpetrated by the Panthers.

* Talk about salary cap space. According to, the Oakland Raiders are $41 million under the league’s spending minimum, and the minimum is calculated as being 89 percent of the salary cap. Just for the purposes of trying to put some numbers to this, let’s pretend the 2016 salary cap is $150 million. That means the minimum is $133.5 million, which means the Raiders are $41 million under that. Oakland’s $92.5 million cap number theoretically would put the Raiders $57.5 million under the cap.

* The belief is that an offseason priority for the Washington Redskins will be to work out a multi-year contract with quarterback Kirk Cousins, with estimates being that he’ll command a deal worth between $18-$20 million per year. God bless Kirk Cousins, and all due respect to him as an NFL quarterback, but according to, Ben Roethlisberger will count $23.95 million on the Steelers’ cap for 2016.

* Think Ben Roethlisberger is more than $4 million of cap space better than Kirk Cousins? Me, too.

* Kudos to Bill Cowher for being the only analyst on CBS’ Super Bowl 50 pregame show to point out the potential effect of the pressure of the moment on Cam Newton as a quarterback who would be playing in his first-ever Super Bowl. Cowher had some experience with the phenomenon in Super Bowl XXX with Neil O’Donnell and in Super Bowl XL with Roethlisberger, and he hit the nail on the head in describing what to look for from Newton early in the game.

* Cowher pointed out that a clue to Newton being over-hyped for the game – never a good thing for a quarterback – would be if he was throwing high to his receivers early. Newton’s first pass attempt of the game – to wide receiver Corey Brown – sailed over his head. That play served as a harbinger of Newton’s day.