Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is certainly not going to get $15 million per season, as he alluded to recently, admittedly in a rap song, a genre known for its braggadocio. At least he is unlikely to get that from the Steelers, though the manner in which the financial landscape of the running back position has shifted in the past five years suggests that no team would be willing to offer that up.
He has every right to want to be the league’s highest-paid running back to be sure—and $15 million would be the number, considering Adrian Peterson’s deal earns him $14 million a season, signed in a different football climate. And he also has a compelling case to make for himself to be the outlier, because he is unique in his abilities.
To put it simply, Le’Veon Bell is not just a running back, but also a wide receiver, and is one of the few true running backs in the league that is capable of running a full route tree, understands how to sell a route, and is able to line up out wide and beat his man for a touchdown.
It should not be forgotten that during his 2014 All-Pro season, he was second on the Steelers’ roster in both receptions and receiving yards, in a year in which they had five different players amass at least 500 yards through the air. His 83 receptions and 854 receiving yards are team records, and many believe he will be the next back to crack 1000 yards.
His 2015 production as a receiver was marred badly by the fact that of his six games, he only played about one full game total—most of the first game he was active and less than half of his final game in which he was injured—with Ben Roethlisberger, instead receiving ill-advised passes or check downs that were doomed to fall short of a first down.
That is why he averaged just 5.7 yards per reception last year when he showed a year earlier that he could be explosive, averaging 10.3 yards per reception. He still caught 24 passes on just 26 targets—another indication of how many of them were shallow and near the line of scrimmage—but they yielded just 136 yards.
In light of that it might be easy to let slip just how accomplished Bell is as a receiver, a running back that the Steelers are more than comfortable splitting out wide to provide a mismatch. With a healthy Bell and a healthy Roethlisberger working together, there’s not a linebacker or safety in the league that can consistently line up against the pair in coverage and come up without a mouthful of dirt and a grasp full of air.
Of course, that will only be a marginal factor in the equation when it comes time to talk contract, and no doubt he has other marks against him—his dubious decision-making nearly two years ago, a pair of knee injuries. But Bell’s talent should command about the maximum that the current running back market can command, even though it will fall inevitably short of Peterson’s now outdated deal.