On becoming the starting left tackle on an NFL team, one gets more responsibilities, expectations and, ostensibly, money.
That’s not the case for Byron Bell, whom Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has essentially named the Week 1 starter, responsible for protecting quarterback Cam Newton’s blind side.
Bell cares about the prestige, but he’s not thinking about the money.
“I’m not real big on cash. I’m very basic. That’s just who I am,” Bell said. “I’m not going to lie to you, my rookie year when I got that first check I was like, that’s the most money I’ve ever seen in my life. It was about $13,000.
“I don’t look at it all like I’m one of the lowest-paid left tackles in the league. I just want to win. I feel like if I win, that’s more than money to me.”
Bell, who went undrafted out of New Mexico in 2011, signed his restricted free agent tender worth $2.187 million in May, and he’s set to be a free agent in 2015. That makes him the eighth lowest-paid starting left tackle in the NFL, in the bottom-quarter of starters at that position.
By comparison Tennessee and Atlanta are paying two left tackles more money each more than Bell is scheduled to make this season.
Bell grew up with little in Greenville, Texas, a town in North Texas with a population of about 25,000. Bell anticipates doing something for his Greenville community in the form of a recreation center and a nonprofit.
He bought his mom a home in Greenville and still sends money to his younger brother because of his good grades, but Bell doesn’t want for much.
“I got a used truck,” Bell said. “I walk to all the home games. I walk to practice. I stay right up the street. I walk everywhere. Guys will tell you, we’ve been out where I help people. I use my own money. I don’t look for tax write-offs or any of that.
“The money is going to come one day. And if I stay the course, the big payday is going to come. But right now I’m not worried about the big payday, I’m worried about winning.”
Winning is what the Panthers are focused on, too, and Rivera believes Bell at left tackle gives them the best shot.
Bell started at right tackle for three seasons, and his flip to the left side comes after the winter retirement of three-time Pro Bowler Jordan Gross. Bell endured switching from left-to-right and right-to-left with Nate Chandler during organized team activities, minicamp and the start of training camp before eventually winning the job.
Bell looked solid in exhibitions against the Bills and Chiefs, two teams with formidable defensive fronts. Friday he faces New England defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, part of what Bell called one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.
“I’m excited for what he’s doing and the opportunities he’s getting,” Rivera said. “This will be another big week, another good team. The tough thing about this team is this is a pure 3-4. So that will most certainly put another test to our offensive line, and to him as well.”
Rivera still has not officially named Bell the starter, but Tuesday he called it fait accompli, insinuating Bell had yet to be told.
Bell had yet to talk to Rivera about it after Wednesday’s practice, and instead he got the news from a friend who sent him the quote.
“I’ll have a sitdown and talk to him, which is coming up soon, and he’s going to let me know his expectations, and he’s going to want to know what I expect of myself,” Bell said. “I’m confident with the job, and I’m happy and blessed enough that this team sees me as their left tackle.”