The Pittsburgh Steelers have one clear decision to make this offseason that is bigger than any other, and whatever decision that they reach, or are forced to reach, is going to influence how the rest of the offseason takes shape.
That is of course the fiscal future of running back Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. Entering his sixth season in the NFL after the Steelers made him a second-round draft pick in 2013, Bell has since established himself as an All-Pro and arguably the best—certainly the most complete—player at his position in the NFL.
But he has also made it clear that he not only believes he is the best in the NFL, but also that he ought to be compensated in a manner that reflects that, and also reshapes the market for future running backs such as Ezekiel Elliot, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and this past season’s impressive rookie class.
Bell is of the belief that while his currently salary demands seem to be outlandish based upon the established market value, that is going to reflect the new normal in terms of the pay scale for the running back position.
This has resulted in a complicated negotiation process that had no smooth resolution a year ago and resulted in Bell playing the 2017 season under the franchise tag. He abstained from all offseason activity, but went on to have a productive, and healthy, campaign, even if it was not his best season qualitatively, particularly in the beginning.
At the moment, the two sides are, or will be, working toward the completion of a long-term contract. Both Bell and Art Rooney II have said that that is the goal. But a fallback option, which might not necessarily be taken, is to apply the franchise tag on him again, which would raise his salary to roughly $14.5 million.
Pro Football Focus believes that this could be a wise decision, though Michael Renner acknowledges that it is a “tricky” situation. “Le’Veon Bell is already coming off a season in which he played under the franchise tag”, he notes. “Despite the dip in his efficiency numbers, Bell was still PFF’s seventh-highest graded running back this season. His value is also maximized in Pittsburgh, where he virtually never comes off the field. His 1,021 snaps this year were 174 more than the next closest running back”.
This entry comes from a list of players who are scheduled to be free agents that the authors believes is worth considering applying the franchise tag to. For Bell’s entry, there is an accompanying graphic that indicates he has more yards after contact from scrimmage than any other player in the NFL over the course of the past two seasons.
Already, Bell set an NFL record by becoming the fastest player to record 8000 yards from scrimmage, doing so in his 62nd NFL game and breaking Eric Dickerson’s record while doing it. There is no denying the player’s talent, though there is certainly plenty of debate about his worth.