The Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract yesterday, as the topic du jure. Ian Rapoport reported that the team raised its final offer from five years, $60 million last season to five years, $70 million, averaging $14 million per season.
Bell, however, said earlier this offseason that he would not accept a contract that averaged less than he was making on the franchise tag this season, which is $14.5 million. And Rapoport said that in spite of the fact that the Steelers raised their offer, the two sides were actually closer to finalizing a contract last year than they were yesterday.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 16, 2018
“It does not sound to me based on the people I’ve spoken with that it was as close as last year”, he said during an appearance on the NFL Network yesterday evening. “If you rewind back a little bit, 365 days from now, they almost got a deal done. In fact, there were several people involved who thought a deal would get done for Bell before he decided eventually to not take a five-year, $60 million offer from the Steelers”.
He went on to say that it “became very clear that the deal was not getting done” around mid-morning, “so it did not get down to the wire”. The negotiations last year were said to have gone on to the very last minute, so clearly Bell forged a greater resolve over his expectations for a contract in the past year.
Not that there isn’t reason for that. Tagged at a bit over $12 million a year ago, he was already well into new territory for running backs, it probably even seemed transgressive for him to be there. He also knew that the specter of a second franchise tag loomed.
That threat is gone now because a third tag would be prohibitively expensive. He knows that unrestricted free agency is just eight months away, rather than 20 months and two entire seasons. It’s easier to stand your ground when your goal is visible on the horizon.
It is understandably difficult for fans to see Bell as a sympathetic figure in this negotiation. He has already earned far more than most people who watch him on Sunday’s will make over the course of their entire lifetimes, and he was set to more than double that, reportedly guaranteed to earn $33 million with the potential for up to $70 million over five years.
The single largest contract currently on the books for any running back in terms of total value is Devontae Freeman’s, which comes int at $41.25 million over five years. Bell would have put himself in position to make more than that over three years, and to add another $25 million over the next two.
But he sees, accurately, that he will have the opportunity in eight months to get exactly what he has been looking for—financially—for his entire career. Even if that means departing from an organization and teammates that he cares for.