PITTSBURGH -- The Le'Veon Bell debate has lacked one key voice over the past month: Bell himself.
The Steelers running back has offered little more than a monocle emoji as he stayed away from the Steelers. But Bell made clear to ESPN that he's eyeing a return sooner than later, and he spoke at length about various topics related to his franchise tag.
Here are some of the lingering questions that were addressed in ESPN's interview with Bell.
What is Bell's expectation for himself upon his return?
Bell expects to be himself. He says he's in top physical condition and doesn't want to hold back when he's on the field.
"When I do get back, I plan to give it my all," he said.
But what about a pitch count of sorts? Is that what Bell wants?
An exact pitch count didn't come up, but I did ask Bell about returning to his heavy workload that has become his signature. Bell said he's prepared to do what's necessary to help the Steelers win while taking the chance to "show people" what he can still do.
"My intentions [when this started], I'm going to save myself for when you want to make a long-term deal," said Bell, who added that, once on the field, "I'll be fully committed and give you everything I have."
If Bell's not worried about touches once he returns, what was the "plan" Bell wanted to hear before reporting?
This is a reference to agent Adisa Bakari openly asking on a Sirius XM interview during Week 1 what plan the Steelers had for his client.
Bell couldn't speak for his agent, but generally the player wanted to know how the Steelers would approach his future -- namely, what the team does with his rights (a trade or otherwise) now and in the future.
He still wants a long-term deal in Pittsburgh and had hoped to know the likelihood of that before stepping onto the field.
There's a perception Bell misled the team. What did he say about that?
Bell tweeted in July that the 2018 season would be his "best to date," but he made clear he offered no other details about his plans for the season beyond that. He never told teammates he would come in, and the organization had no idea, either.
"This second year on the tag, everybody thought I would do what I did on the first tag and assumed a certain thing and it offended a lot of people," Bell said. "That's not my fault you literally thought I'd do the same thing. Everybody thinks I'm bluffing. That's not the person I am. I've always been a stubborn kid. When I have my mind set, that's what I'm going to do."
Bell values his relationships in the locker room and isn't worried about re-entering it. He's prepared to talk with players individually about why he felt he had to preserve long-term health.
How will Bell handle a trade proposal if the Steelers come to him with one?
Because Bell has to sign his franchise tender in order to be traded, Bell can essentially veto any offer. But Bell said he's open and willing to work with the Steelers and other teams -- in earnest.
"I would have to know everything," Bell said. "It depends on what team it is and whether they want to do a long-term deal after the tag. If they really wanted to do a long-term deal, they could get me traded."
The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 30, two days after the Week 8 matchup with the Browns in which Bell is hoping to play. Popcorn.
Bell is a target for fans who say he should take his game check and be happy. What does Bell think about the me-first perception?
Bell is self-aware here. He knows he has lost some fans, many of whom are conditioned to side with the team. But he feels a bit misunderstood over player business. He cited being turned off by how the Steelers were able to walk away from Troy Polamalu -- who technically retired after the 2014 season -- because the money wasn't guaranteed.
He didn't want to take the Steelers' monster $70 million offer because the true guarantee was $17 million -- well below backs David Johnson and Todd Gurley, who got between $31 million and $45 million guaranteed this summer.
"They are trying to win on both ends, and that's not fair," said Bell about the team. "They thought I was playing, but I'm not playing."
What about those who consider Bell a me-first player after all this?
Bell believes that perception is unfortunate, because his love for football and his Steelers teammates was separate from the business side.
Watching Steelers games has been painful for him because of the losses and how Bell, after five years in the system, can detect the offensive plays before they are coming.
"I still want to go out there and win a Super Bowl with the Steelers," Bell said.
Bell was on a jet ski while the Steelers were struggling to win a game. What does he say about a juxtaposition that's unsavory for some?
Bell said he simply took a bit of time off once it was cemented that he wouldn't show up Week 1, but since then he has been training aggressively.
Bell's football readiness never has been questioned in the Steelers' locker room. That's why teammates supported him through his drug suspensions. They know he works.
What is Bell's plan with the transition tag, if the team applies it?
This one is fascinating in light of colleague Dan Graziano's report that the Steelers would argue a transition of $17-plus million should prorate for the games Bell misses in 2018. That sounds like one heckuva grievance over the merits of cornering a player at a discounted rate.
But Bell said two things about the transition tag: (1) The team told him during the franchise-tag negotiations that they would apply it, and (2) he would welcome it because he could negotiate with other teams or the Steelers.
With the transition tag, the Steelers could match any offer or facilitate a sign-and-trade for draft picks. And if they want to keep him, the salary is much lower than the $20-plus million due on the franchise tag. Remember, a long-term deal with lofty guarantees is the sole goal here, preferably with the Steelers.
Anything else is a sidebar.