Le’Veon Bell has already surpassed the level of star power Carnell Lake received during his NFL career. Lake, who served as Pittsburgh’s defensive backs coach for seven years before retiring this past offseason, spent 10 of his 12 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A linebacker in college, Lake transitioned to safety after being drafted in the second round of the 1989 NFL draft. In 1994, Lake started a streak of four consecutive Pro Bowl selections while playing both safety and cornerback for the Steelers while helping Pittsburgh win the 1995 AFC title. Lake earned All-Pro honors in 1997 after recording three interceptions and 6.0 sacks while helping the Steelers advance to the AFC title game.
During a recent interview with Ron Lippock of 247Sports/Steel City Insider, Lake was asked what advice he would give to Bell with regard to his current contract situation. Lake left the Steelers following the 1998 season after receiving a much more lucrative offer from Pittsburgh’s division rival, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Bell, Lake was franchise tagged by Pittsburgh before leaving the team for Jacksonville.
“Well, he’s not the first one in Pittsburgh to hold out,” Lake said. “There were many that did before there was free agency. That was the only recourse then. I’ll say this, and it’s tricky. Mike [Tomlin] does a good job with that team and he’s doing a good job focusing on the game coming up and the 53 there now. He needs to keep the team focused. If Bell does show up, he’ll be a part of the Steelers. If he plays well, all will be brushed under the rug, in my opinion. You can’t tell him what to do.
“I’ll say this though. If I were talking with Le’Veon, I’d tell him to start asking around with other players who have gone through similar things. How did that work out for them? What are your expectations and what do you expect to accomplish holding out. What outcomes have resulted for guys that did what you’re doing? He just needs to be sure he knows what he’s doing and the potential consequences.”
While he ended up making another Pro Bowl in Jacksonville, Lake was still disappointed that he wasn’t able to end his career in Pittsburgh.
“I was fortunate that even though I left I had a good perspective watching other older players leave the team,” said Lake, who watched teammates such as Chad Brown, Willie Williams, Rod Woodson and Yancey Thigpen leave Pittsburgh in prior seasons. ‘I saw players leave ahead of me and thought that when I got to that point I may have to leave also. I didn’t take it personally. I made sure I said nothing negative in the press. I wanted to leave on good terms. I was thankful for them drafting me and for my time there. I had 10 awesome years there.
“I took the Jacksonville offer because none were even close to it. I didn’t want to leave, honestly. I was getting my MBA at Duquesne after Mr. Rooney wrote me a great recommendation to help get me in. I wanted to finish up there. I told myself if the offers were close I would stay, but the Jacksonville offer was not even close to the others.”
While each players’ financial situation is different, it’s clear that Lake feels that Bell should look at other past Steelers who fled Pittsburgh in free agency before ultimately making his free agency decision in 2019.