You may have heard by now that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not end up signing a long-term contract with the team prior to the Monday deadline that was in place for those who were given a franchise tender, which means that Bell will be playing under that $12 million tag this year.
That is not what he thinks that he is worth, however, and I do think that he has a good argument to make for it, especially when you consider the explosion of the salary cap over the course of the past seven years and the inflation in salary that goes along with it.
Former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who will be serving as a scouting intern for the Steelers this summer, was a teammate of Bell’s during the running back’s first two seasons in 2013 and 2014, but they have remained friends throughout that time.
Now in the media, Taylor said on NFL Network yesterday that he spoke with Bell, who believes that his unique skill set deserves to be treated in a unique way, and that he believes that he should be compensated taking into consideration his role as a number on running back…and as a number two wide receiver.
Does he have a case to make? Absolutely he does. Bell was second on the team in receptions in both 2014 and 2016, behind only Antonio Brown, who was a first-team All-Pro in both of those years. He likely would have filled the same role in 2015 had he not been limited to just six games, missing eight due to a significant knee injury.
Over the course of his four-year career, Bell has averaged—averaged, mind you—4.7 receptions for 42.7 yards per game, over 47 games. He has put up 227 receptions for 2005 yards and five receiving touchdowns over that span.
During his breakout 2014 season, Bell averaged 5.2 receptions and 53.4 yards through the air per game, finishing with 83 receptions for 854 yards. Last season, in 12 games, he caught 75 receptions for 616 yards, averaging 6.3 receptions for 51.3 yards per game. And that was with a late turn away from his usage in the passing game.
Now, what would this translate to in terms of salary? Certainly it would set a new benchmark. Let’s just look back at Adrian Peterson’s 2011 contract, a seven-year, $100 million deal that averaged over $14 million per season.
The salary cap in 2011 was $120 million. It has risen by more than a third since then. Reflecting a proportion of the salary cap, a similar deal today would approach $20 million per season.
Now Bell is not going to get that, but I think he is in the ballpark with the $15 million he was singing about, and Taylor agreed. Consider the fact that Bell is a more complete player than Peterson as well, whom the Vikings often took off the field in obvious passing situations. Literally only David Johnson could compare to Bell in today’s NFL, and he’s only going into his third season.