O'HARA: With a three-year contract, Joique Bell has proved that he "belongs"

Posted Mar 12, 2014

Bell has made himself a valuable running back for the Lions through persistence and production, and he was rewarded with a three-year contract worth $9.3 million

The money is good in the first mega-contract of Joique Bell’s football career, but what it represents in his journey through the NFL means even more to him.

Joique BellRB Joique Bell after signing three-year contract, with son Jordan. (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Bell has made himself a valuable running back for the Lions through persistence and production, and he was rewarded with a three-year contract worth $9.3 million. He is guaranteed to make $4.3 million.

When asked what meant most to him, Bell did not discount the contract, but it wasn’t No. 1 on his list.

 “To prove that I belong,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday. “You prove you belong, that (the contract) comes along with it.”

Bell, who grew up in Benton Harbor and played at Wayne State University in Detroit, took a long, winding path before become a regular contributor with the Lions the last two seasons.

“The most important thing on my bucket list, I said in my last interview, this is more than football,” Bell said with his son, Jordan, at his side. “It’s more than a pay check .This is more than all that.

“I grew up in Michigan. Born here, raised here, from a small city, 15,000 maybe. Benton Harbor raised me. Detroit made me.”

Bell made a personal appearance at a school on Detroit’s east side Tuesday. Coincidentally, negotiations on his contract were being finalized while he was speaking to some students.

“A kid asked me why I love Detroit,” Bell said. “I love Detroit because Detroit loves me.  I came here (to Wayne State) as an 18-year-old not knowing what to expect. Now, nine years later, I sign the biggest deal of my life.”

Bell is popular with his teammates. Reggie Bush, his running mate in the Lions’ backfield, tweeted his congratulations when Bell signed his contract, as did a number of other Lions. Ndamukong Suh spoke by telephone.

Bell was a prolific runner at Wayne State. He rushed for 2,084 yards and 29 TDs as a senior in 2009. That earned him the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded annually to the top player in Division II.

Bell spent time with the Bills, Eagles, Colts and Saints – on the practice squad or regular roster – before signing with the Lions late in the 2011 season.

He did not have a carry from scrimmage or a reception in a regular-season game until 2012. He made the most of his opportunities.

In 2012, he rushed for 414 yards and had 52 carries for 485 yards. His production improved in 2013, with Bush as the lead back. Bell rushed for 650 yards and caught 53 passes for 547 yards.

Bell ranked high among running backs in two key categories. He was tied for 11th with eight rushing touchdowns. Among running backs with at least 50 receptions, his average of 10.3 yards per catch was second only to LeSean McCoy, who averaged 10.4 yards on 52 catches for 539 yards.

SECOND TAKE: Suh is in London, and there is no word that negotiations have begun with the Lions since he hired Jimmy Sexton as his agent last week. Suh is entering the last year of his contract, and speculation abounds about whether he wants to remain a Lion after the 2013 season.

Bell is friends with Suh. Suh is a defensive captain, and it’s logical to assume that calling Bell to congratulate him on his contract is a sign that Suh is not angling to get out of Detroit.