When it comes to their premiere talent, in recent times—especially under Art Rooney II—the Pittsburgh Steelers have by and large ponied up and made the financial commitment to their players. One need only reflect on such names as LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Troy Polamalu, and Antonio Brown, all of whom received top or near-top salaries at their respective positions during extensions.
So it was with that fact in mind that there was a good deal of deserved optimism about the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell resolving to work out a long-term contract by yesterday’s 4 PM deadline, which unfortunately came and went without an official signature hitting paper.
As you have probably read a number of times by now, this means that Bell will have no choice—barring an ill-advised holdout—but to play the 2017 season under the franchise tender, which he has previously said he would do if he did not work out a long-term deal.
Bell told Jeremy Fowler that the Steelers did not bring up over the course of their negotiations the fact that the All-Pro running back has missed five games over the past two years for two separate suspensions that could have been longer, or that he has been injured in every season of his four-year career.
But I can’t help but wonder if that was a part of their negotiating principles, regardless of whether or not it went unspoken. Because the fact of the matter is that he has missed 11 regular season games and all or most of two postseason games, which the Steelers lost, due to injury, in addition to the five games missed due to suspension.
Of a total possible 70 games, Bell has only participated in 50, and that includes three games that he missed the majority of due to injuries that would ultimately end his season in each of the past three years—although that also includes an idle regular-season finale with no stakes.
Bell is an extremely talented and able player at his position in all facets. His abilities are unmatched. But they say that the best ability is availability for a reason, and the fact of the matter is that the running back has been absent in close to 30 percent of all possible non-exhibition games over the course of his first four seasons.
It would be hard for me to believe that the Steelers did not take this into consideration during their negotiations, regardless of whether or not that information would have been relayed to the player or his agent.
But perhaps they would like to see him get through a 16-game season unscathed in 2017 before giving him an unprecedented contract for his unprecedented skill set, for some assurance that they will see that skill set on the field as often as possible.