Now that the dust has settled from the Le’Veon Bell long-term contract talks and emotions from the Steelers’ fan base have subsided (for the most part), I felt it was time to pick through the situation at hand with Bell, regarding his decision and his contract demands.
Bell seems very confident in himself, considering he turned down $42 million over the first three years of a 5-year offer from the Steelers, including $30 million in the first two years.
Should he have accepted it, Bell would have become the highest-paid running back in the NFL by a considerable margin, surpassing LeSean McCoy’s extension with the Buffalo Bills from 2015, when the jitterbug back signed a 5-year, $40 million extension.
Alas, Bell turned down the deal, wanting to be paid like a No. 1 running back AND a No. 2 wide receiver.
That’s a hefty bet on himself.
Diving deeper into Bell’s request, it seems crazy for him to play on the franchise tag for the 2017 season when he’s missed 20 of 70 possible regular season and playoff games with the Steelers, and has seen his season end due to injury two years in a row, both of which required him to go under the knife.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on the amount of miles he’s racked up on his body since being drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In four seasons with the Steelers, Bell has touched the ball a combined 1,135 times (roughly 284 times a season), with 473 of those touches coming in the last two years (18 games).
Sometimes, it makes sense for great players like Bell to take a chance on themselves and play under the tag, forcing their respective teams to pay the big bucks down the road (a la Kirk Cousins and Eric Berry), but with Bell, it simply doesn’t make much sense due to the position he plays, the style in which he plays and the injury and suspension history that hangs over him like a dark cloud on a sunny day.
The deal that the Steelers offered was more than fair, considering he’d have completely reset the market for running backs in the NFL, but adding in the No. 2 wide receiver request is, well, weird.
As a pass catcher, Bell profiles more as a slot receiver, considering he averages just 8.8 yards per touch through the air. That doesn’t profile as a No. 2 wide out, at least in my eyes.
Slot receivers like Jeremy Kerley, Sterling Shepard and Ted Ginn Jr. aren’t making a ton of money on the open market (just $4.87 million combined base salaries for the trio this season).
I’m not saying Bell isn’t a valuable receiving option — that would be crazy talk from me — but asking to be paid like a No. 2 wide receiver in the NFL would push him somewhere near a total of $20 million per year, which the Steelers simply wouldn’t do for a guy with Bell’s miles and injury history.
What makes Bell’s decision even more confusing is that he’s running the risk of pushing himself out of town, possibly ruining a shot at a great opportunity for the next few years.
It’s true that the Steelers could tag him next spring as well, but he’d cost roughly $14 million that season. It’s completely possible the Steelers could simply run his wheels off and then dispose him into the overpaid, underperforming running back junkyard after the 2018 season.
Where Bell loses me — and probably most fans — is when he took to snap chat, saying he just needs to get better.
No, Le’Veon, you really don’t. You’re already the best all-purpose back in the NFL, and you were going to be paid like it.
Personally, I think Bell got some bad advice from his camp. Sure, I want him to be paid the most amount of money he can possibly earn because football is a physical game that takes years off of the lives of players who have long careers, but when you get a chance to get that much money and reset the market for your position, that’s tough to pass up.
Wanting to crusade for your position, reset the market and make teams view players of your type in a different light is noble, but let someone else do it when you’re having a hard enough time staying healthy, fair or not.
Of course, Bell’s ordeal could play out just like Berry’s in Kansas City, where the veteran bet on himself and received a 6-year, $78 million deal from the Chiefs this off-season.
I just have a hard time seeing Bell sign a long-term deal with the Steelers at this point, based off of his demands, injury history and position that he plays. They could easily run him into the ground, let him walk in free agency after the 2018 season and address running back early in the 2019 NFL draft to pair with James Conner.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for the fan base, but there’s a real possibility Bell’s time with the Steelers is growing short.
He’s said he wants to play with nobody but the Steelers, so if he wants to hold himself accountable to that, he’ll need to be reasonable with his demands.
But that could all change if he stays completely healthy in the 2017 season and puts up MVP numbers. Should that happen, the Steelers would have a real conundrum on their hands when it comes to paying an aging back with a ton of miles what he wants, while also trying to stay as flexible as possible under the salary cap with guys like Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt and Alejandro Villanueva needing new deals in the future.
Here’s hoping Bell’s bet on himself pays off for both the franchise and the dynamic running back.