It’s certainly positive to hear good things coming out of Le’Veon Bell’s camp in his contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some of that is probably overblown, we’ll write about that during the week, and Bell’s stance has always been – rightfully – to get the money that he’s owed. He’s the best back in the league and what he offers in every phase of the game, running, blocking, receiving, is going to net him that top dollar figure.
But I think there’s another reason beyond the obvious of why Bell wants to get paid the amount he does. One that has been talked about before but under reported throughout the process. Part of his motivation comes from being the pioneer of returning true value to the running back position.
Bell, because of last year’s tag, was the only back in 2017 to make over $10 million. The next closest are LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman, the latter who signed an extension in August, for around $8 million. Here is the average yearly value for the second highest contract at every other position in 2017.
QB: $25 million
RB: $8.2 million
WR: $16.2 million
TE: $9.3 million
LT: $13.2 million
LG: $10 million
C: $9.4 million
RG: $11.2 million
RT: $9.5 million
NT: $8 million
DT: $17.1 million
DE (3-4): $16.7 million
DE (4-3): $15.5 million
3-4 OLB: $16.8 million
4-3 OLB: $11.1 million
ILB: $10.7 million
CB: $15 million
S: $12.5 million
So unless you’re a nose tackle, functionally a two-down position, running back is making less on average than anyone else.
Bell’s spoken to it before but at the Pro Bowl, Alvin Kamara seemed to reinforce the point. From ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
“I told him I can’t wait till you get your contract, because I’m going to be right behind you. He was like, ‘You have to get what you deserve, what you’re worth.’ With him being able to do that, for him being the guinea pig, I guess, get all his money and get all his worth, I think it’s going to bring the position back.”
Over the past ten years, running back’s value has decreased. The position has become more specialized, there’s more committees, and the self life of the position is shorter than the rest. All adds up to teams choosing not to invest the draft capital or money into them.
That tide may have begun to change. Workhorses are returned; Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley are proof positive of that. Zeke Elliott and Leonard Fournette each went in the Top 5 and that trend is likely to continue for a third year with Saquon Barkley. Ergo, their price tag goes back up.
Bell is the first case study, the guinea pig, as Kamara put it, of how much that value has truly changed. Whenever Bell gets paid, it will affect the market, though by how much is unclear. Other backs are still unlikely to command the $15 million that Bell will earn but in time, that price will increase. Gurley will be getting paid soon. Elliott in the not-so-distant future.
While there’s some speculation from me, I think that’s part of what has driven Bell to hold firm on his number and stick with a high asking price. To be the guy who leads the rest of the pack and make sure the position is paid similarly to basically the rest of the NFL. The top backs in the league, after all, touch the ball more than anyone else who isn’t playing quarterback, And the Steelers are witnesses to what happens when they don’t have a player of Bell’s caliber.