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The Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Just Another Tuesday…

Steelers fans are digesting the results of the NFL combine. Deciding which prospects should be on the Steelers radar on draft day. Alex Kozora has already published his first mock draft of the offseason. Before the draft; the free agency period will also have people weighing in on which players should be picked up by Pittsburgh. Linebackers, safeties … even quarterbacks.

The next key dates are March 12-14 when according to the NFL; “Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2017 player contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 14. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 14.”

The Steelers have several players to become unrestricted free agents: WR Justin Hunter; RB Stevan Ridley; DT Dan McCullers; LB Sean Spence; LB Art Moats; T Chris Hubbard and … RB Le’Veon Bell is off this list since the Steelers did tag him as a franchise player prior to 4PM New York time Tuesday.

General Manager Kevin Colbert has stated that the organization wants to sign Bell to a long-term deal. Bell himself has stated that “I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt!”

So, what’s the problem? It comes down to the amount of money the Steelers are willing to pay and how much of it will be guaranteed. It also comes down to the amount of money and guaranteed salary that Bell is willing to accept to finish his career in Pittsburgh. Predictably, Steelers Nation is excited and taking sides. One group is saying, “Pay the Man.” He is worth every penny he is asking for. He is responsible for half the Steelers offense. He makes a third of the first downs. Letting him go will doom the Steelers chances for a run at another Lombardi Trophy.

The other group is saying, “Time to move on, he’s not worth it.” Look what teams like the Eagles did with a much more affordable pair of running backs. The money saved by cutting ties can be used to bolster a defense in free agency. The Steelers can improve their chances at another Lombardi Trophy without him.

Current and former Steelers are supporting Le’Veon Bell. Maurkice Pouncey and DeAngelo Williams have weighed in. It looks like déjà vu all over again. Absent a contract Bell is willing to sign in the next few hours; the Steelers are obliged to tag him. Then it is up to Bell on how he will respond.

As an average Steelers fan, I will watch how this plays out. The reality is that the more money Bell is paid; the less money there is for the rest of the roster. In 2018; the player’s pie is $177.2 million. Signing bonuses and contracted salaries can be spread out over the life of the contract but eventually, it will impact the cap no matter how far the can is kicked down the road. The problem with guaranteeing too much of the salary is that it increases the risk to the club’s roster stability. For example, let’s say Bell had a three-year contract for $15 million per year that was fully guaranteed. If he were hurt in the first year; he would still be paid $45 million over three years – and the Steelers would have $30 million less to pay other players including his replacement during the second and third years of his contract.

For teams that don’t come close to the salary cap such as the Browns; this scenario may be palatable. Some reports had them with over $100 million in cap space. The Steelers have almost always had their player’s salaries eat up almost the full cap amount -meaning that injuries to players who have big guarantees could wreak havoc on their ability to hold onto all their players.

I don’t begrudge Bell trying to get every penny he can get. He is a great player, but a portion of his production is due to a talented offensive line and a very good quarterback and great receivers which opens things up for him. What I will begrudge is any actions that will hurt the chances of the Steelers in 2018 and that includes not reporting to camp on time this year.

I’m a Steelers fan first and any fandom for Le’Veon Bell or any other Steeler is a distant second. A case in point; I can’t stand Tom Brady – mainly because he plays for the Patriots. However, if he were wearing Black & Gold and won 5 rings with the Steelers I would be cheering for him like mad.

If Bell goes to another team; I will not follow him like some NBA fan; I will not be buying Bell jerseys with a Tampa Bay or Dolphins logo on it. He will just be another football player who I will cheer against since they are not on my team of choice – the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, the tag has been applied or “slapped” on as some pundits would say. Then ball is in Bell’s court on accepting it and whether he will report on time to prove that he really wants to play in Pittsburgh for at least one more year. I will cheer for Bell every game he is in a Steelers uniform. Even if he were to leave after 2018, I would wish him all the best with the usual caveat – except against the Steelers. But that is conditioned on full effort on his part to earn the $14.52 million he will be paid including showing up at al practices on time.  Meanwhile contract negotiations continue. Maybe, just maybe, a long-term contract is signed over the next few months.

Regardless of what happens; I’ll continue to Jump Around by a House of Pain until the Steelers achieve a 7th Super Bowl Trophy.

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