Bell spent his first three years as a reserve, rising to a starting role in 1980 due to injuries to both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. His 25.8 yards-per-catch average led the AFC that year. He then held out of training camp the next year, hoping to get a salary increase based on his performance. He was instead waived, and was claimed by the Buccaneers, where he replaced Mike Shumann on the roster.
During Bell's second season with the Steelers, his first wife, Kathy, appeared on Card Sharks and won several games for a total of $23,000 in prize money.