Perhaps the biggest offseason question the Pittsburgh Steelers will be facing, at least as far as it pertains to their current personnel, is what to do with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who is arguably the best and certainly the most well-rounded player at his position, with the salary demands to more than match that reality.
This season, Bell rushed for 1291 yards on 321 carries, scoring nine times on the ground, and added another 655 yards on 85 receptions with two more touchdowns as a receiver. He then added another 67 yards on the ground and 88 yards through the air—plus another touchdown of each variety—in yesterday’s postseason game.
Basically, he did what he set out to do, which was to retain his value while remaining healthy. And he did it with one of the most substantial workloads that we have seen in recent years in the NFL, recording over 400 touches during the regular season.
He did it with a clear goal in mind: cash in for life this offseason. He played the 2017 season under the franchise tag after he and the Steelers were unable to work out a last-minute long-term deal, reportedly turning down a three-year, $42 million offer.
Asked prior to the Divisional Round game, Bell suggested that he might hold out, or even retire, should Pittsburgh try to place the franchise tag on him for a second time in 2018. He is seeking an annual salary perhaps north of $17 million, but would also like to see some long-term security.
Following yesterday’s game, he was naturally asked about his future plans, and if he wants to stay with the Steelers. “Of course”, he said, as all players always do in such situations. But he added, “I never want to leave this city, but obviously, circumstances and things like that. But I definitely don’t”.
Bell clearly has a great deal of love and admiration for his teammates and his the coaching staff, and I’m sure that, under ideal circumstances, he would love to finish out his entire career with the Steelers, but that fantasy may not mesh with the financial realities that he seeks and that Pittsburgh faces ahead.
While he has missed 18 regular season games during his five-year career in Pittsburgh, he has still amassed 5336 rushing yards in his 62 games with 35 touchdowns, and added another 2660 receiving yards with another seven touchdowns. He’s totaled over 500 yards and four total touchdowns in four postseason games as well.
Including the playoffs, Bell has registered over 1600 touches, however, over the course of his career, which is an average of 320 per season, but just a hair under 25 touches per 66 total games played.
That is a lot of wear for a running back, even for one that will only turn 26 next month. And while he may have been healthy this year, it was the first fully healthy season of his career. Will his next one be in Pittsburgh?