After finishing the season 9-6-1 and missing the playoffs by a half-game, Big Ben appeared on KDKA-FM radio (h/t Chris Adamski of TribLive.com) and discussed what Bell's season-long holdout did to the team:
"It hurts you when you don't have one of the better players in the game, but I think the biggest thing that hurts us was that it was a distraction. At his position, we got to see James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and I thought we got to see guys come into their own and see a glimpse of the future. I was really encouraged about life without Le'Veon."
While Bell's replacements were highly productive, his holdout was a constant topic of conversation throughout the 2018 campaign until the deadline passed for him to sign his franchise tender, making him ineligible to play.
Bell's absence allowed Conner to step in and seize the starting job, and the second-year man put up big numbers in the process, with 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 55 receptions for 497 yards and another score in 13 games.
Conner did his best Bell impression and was named to the Pro Bowl, just like Bell has been on three occasions.
With Conner injured down the stretch, Samuels stepped up to the plate as well.
The rookie fifth-round pick rushed for 142 yards in a Week 15 win over the New England Patriots and finished the season with 455 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on just 82 touches.
With Bell set to move on, the Pittsburgh backfield appears to be in good hands with Conner and Samuels leading the way.
The stats suggest that the Steelers should have been a playoff team in 2018, as they were sixth in scoring and 16th in points allowed.
Pittsburgh played down to its opponents too often, though, and lost key games to low-end teams such as the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.
Missing the playoffs was a disappointing conclusion for the Steelers since they beat the Patriots and played the Kansas City Chiefs tough, which suggests they would have had a legitimate chance to win the AFC.
It is difficult to say precisely what stopped them from making a fifth consecutive playoff appearance, but if Bell's holdout took focus away from the task at hand as Roethlisberger suggested, it may have been the main culprit.