Looking Ahead To A Possible Contract Extension For Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell

In a Monday post I presented several questions that the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to answer during the offseason and one of those centered around running back Le’Veon Bell and whether or not he will ultimately receive a contract extension prior to the start of the 2016 season. On Tuesday, Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News dedicated an entire post to Bell’s future and he came to the conclusion the Steelers would be wise not to give him an extension during the offseason, nor should they use the franchise tag on him after the 2016 season is over.

While DeCourcy makes some good points in his post as to reasons why the Steelers shouldn’t extend Bell now and thus let him ride off into the sunset with another team after the 2016 season is over, his suggestion that Pittsburgh should use the saved money to sign soon-to-be unrestricted free agent cornerback Josh Norman instead is a bit extreme. Why? For starters, many beat writers who cover the Carolina Panthers believe Norman will remain in Carolina this offseason via either the franchise tag or a long term extension. Second, even if Norman is allowed to test free agency, the Steelers certainly aren’t going to battle other teams for his services. It’s just not how they do business.

Now, back to Bell.

Do you have to have a top running back to compete for a Super Bowl? Absolutely not and as DeCourcy rightly points out, all four teams that remain in contention for this year’s Super Bowl do not have a 1,000-yard rusher on their respective rosters. However, Bell offers more than just his ability to run with the football, he’s also a great receiver out of the backfield in addition to being a great pass protector. While he has failed to finish each of the last two seasons because of injuries, he still has quite a bit of tread left on his tires as he’ll only be 24 by the time the 2016 season rolls around.

Assuming Bell’s rehab goes off as planned, he should be ready to go by the start of training camp and by the start of the 2016 regular season at the latest. If given a contract extension, such an action would likely take place sometime after the team reports to Latrobe.

As usual, whether or not the Steelers are able to extend Bell will come down to how much he wants per season in addition to how much guaranteed money he’s looking for. In other words, despite his injury history, he might be looking for a four-year extension (five-year deal) worth roughly $42 million with roughly 35% of that being fully guaranteed.

So what would such a deal potentially look like using the above amount and percentage? Below is a projected contract where Bell would receive $15.5 million guaranteed. That includes a $12 million signing bonus in addition to a fully guaranteed $3 million first-year base salary and a fully guaranteed $500,000 first-year workout bonus. As you can see, Bell’s yearly cap charge would never exceed $10 million for the life of the contract. Additionally, he becomes cuttable after the 2018 season.

Bell’s yearly average of “new money” would be roughly $10.2 million and assuming Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster will both be released in the coming months; Bell would then be the second-highest paid running back in the league behind only Adrian Peterson.

Would Bell take less than that? It’s possible, but probably not much less.

2016 $3,000,000 $2,400,000 $500,000 $5,900,000
2017 $4,600,000 $2,400,000 $500,000 $7,500,000
2018 $6,400,000 $2,400,000 $500,000 $9,300,000
2019 $7,000,000 $2,400,000 $0 $9,400,000
2020 $7,500,000 $2,400,000 $0 $9,900,000
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