This summer is shaping up to be another loooong battle between Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Anyone clinging to Bell’s words about improving contract talks were sold a bill of goods. Things simply aren’t that…well, simple, in these negotiations. Not when you have Bell looking to get paid a historic amount in an era where the position is valued less than nearly any other.
Though Bell said a hundred different things in interviews during Super Bowl week, when straight up asked if he would consider retirement if the Steelers tag him, he quickly responded with “absolutely.”
We know that’s not true. Bell isn’t retiring. A holdout? Possible, we’ll get to that. But he isn’t riding off into the sunset. No way.
But do I blame him for trying? Not one bit.
From Bell’s perspective, he’s in a tough spot. There isn’t much leverage. The Steelers could tag him again so any threat of “walking” isn’t going to work. This isn’t a Kirk Cousins situation where it isn’t financially feasible to do the tag again (though Washington apparently hasn’t gotten that memo). Bell is effectively under Pittsburgh’s control for another year.
So Bell has to cling to the fringe rhetoric like holding out or walking away. It’s the only leverage he has. It’s a little silly but from any of our perspectives, fighting over $13 or $15 million is all really silly.
The two sides remain in the same place as they were a year ago. Close. But not close enough. And I don’t – and won’t – blame Bell for wanting what he thinks he’s deserved. The NFL is rough. Chews you up, spits you out, and the league still lacks a strong enough security net for those out of the game. Roger Goodell can ask for lifetime health insurance for him and his family, despite making gobs more than any player, while those in the NFL lose it after five years.
“One thing that is shocking for a guy who played as long as me is that when you get to your fifth year out of the league and you have to get your own health insurance,” former Chicago Bears’ center Olin Kreutz said last month. “I think that’s one thing they can fix. I think they can get to a point where if you play five years, or whatever, you have lifetime health insurance from the NFL.”
Kreutz is better off than most. He hung around in the league, got his pension, made some money. Not everyone is so lucky.
So Bell wants to get paid. Good for him. Fans should – generally – be on the players side. The league, the organizations? They’re going to be fine. Always have been, always will be. It’s players who twist in the wind.
That doesn’t mean there’s room for compromise, and to reach a deal, Bell will need to do so, but end of the day, I’m pro-player, first and foremost. So if Bell has to try to use these tactics to gain any sort of advantage, I get it. Like politics, contracts are a messy game. Just in the way you can bet the Steelers’ side leaked some of the details about what Bell turned down, to get points in their favor from the general public. And it worked. Big league.
That’s going to be the game until this conflict gets resolved. Both sides using what they have to work with; the team, of course, having most of the leverage here. And that’s ok, too. Pittsburgh didn’t create the system, they’re just using the obvious advantages. Compared to the rest of the league, they handle these situations better than most, thanks to the Rooneys and culture that’s been created. Again, look at Cousins and Washington. Big difference.
A holdout is possible; Eric Berry did it, Aaron Donald missed a week this year. Obviously, Bell is guaranteed to be MIA for the preseason if tagged and a deal isn’t worked out. This year, he could take it a step further.
When it comes to retirement, Bell is bluffing – I mean, duh. Retirement isn’t happening. It’s all an act. A game. Mostly meaningless to read into, barely enough to even mention.
Wake me up when the deadlines near. That’s what will create movement and a solution, if that even happens. For now, it’s a lot of chatter but mostly noise.