Just over four years ago the Cincinnati Bengals drafted running back Giovani Bernard in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft and since that time he’s rushed for 2,105 yards during the regular season in addition to catching 148 passes for another 1,335 yards. On Wednesday, the Bengals rewarded the North Carolina product with a three-year contract extension reportedly worth $15.5 million. While the guaranteed amounts associated with Bernard’s new deal have yet to be made public, it’s easy to see that the average of his new money is just over $5 million a year.
With Bernard’s new contract now out of the way it will be interesting to see which other ball-carrier from the 2013 draft class winds up getting signed to an extension next and logic tells you it will either be either Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell or Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy, both of whom were also drafted in the second round and after Bernard.
While Bell has played in 10 less games than Bernard has during the pair’s first three years in the league, he’s still managed to amass 726 more total yards from scrimmage than the Bengals running back has. Additionally, Bell has established himself in the league as an every-down, all-purpose running back while Bernard has been forced to share a lot of time with Jeremy Hill in the Bengals backfield in each of the last two seasons.
If Bernard is worth a little more than $5 million a season, it won’t be surprising to see Bell command at least $8 million a season which could ultimately result in him being the second-highest paid running back in the NFL behind only Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
As of the start of the Steelers OTA practices several weeks ago, Bell admitted that there have been no contract extension talks as of yet with the organization and that’s not overly surprising being as he’s still putting the finishing touches on rehabbing the knee that he tore up midway through the 2015 season. Additionally, serious contract talks aren’t likely to begin until the team reports to Latrobe for training camp.
Assuming Bell’s rehab finishes up as planned, there’s currently no reason to think that a contract extension won’t ultimately get done prior to the start of the 2016 regular season. The main sticking point, as it is with all contract negotiations, will likely include guaranteed amounts associated with a new deal. Should, however, Bell wind up not signing an extension over the course of the next three months, he will then be scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. At that point, the Steelers would likely need to use a franchise or transition tag on Bell in order to keep in Pittsburgh.
If you are looking for a comparable deal, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed running back Doug Martin to a five year, $35.75 million contract this past March. While that deal included $15 million in guarantees, that money was given to Martin in the form of a $4 million base salary in 2016, a $4 million roster bonus in 2016 and a fully guaranteed salary in 2017 of $7 million.
In reality, Martin’s new deal was for two years and will average $7.5 million. The Buccaneers can easily part ways with Martin after the 2017 season without any dead money being involved being as no signing bonus was given. That is, of course, if they don’t restructure his 2017 base salary next year.