Judging by comments made Wednesday morning by his agent on SiriusXM NFL Radio, it doesn’t sound like Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will be showing up to sign his franchise tag tender anytime soon. Additionally, Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, essentially blamed how the Steelers organization does business as the reason why we have arrived at where we’re currently at regarding Bell.
Bakari implied during his Wednesday morning interview that Steelers essentially missed a golden opportunity to take advantage of a stipulation in the current CBA that would have allowed them to sign Bell to a long-term deal after his second season in the NFL.
“When you find a player and oftentimes, most oftentimes, you know what that player is in year-one, you know what he’s likely to be the first time he’s on your practice field that he’s likely to be a special player,” Bakari said. “I’m not talking about the guys who gradually ascend and become like most NFL or NBA or MLB players, who become just very good. Right? Sometimes that takes some time to develop, but the elite level player, you notice that from jump, from the very beginning. And when you target that player, when you see that player, it’s in the owner’s best interest to pay him as soon as they can.
“One of the biggest things, quite frankly, that the owners willingly surrendered in the last round of CBA negotiations that’s now coming back to bite them, is the ability to do long-term deals after two years. Right? Take a look at what the Rams did, they locked up as many good, young players as fast as they could. Although the Aaron Donald situation was protracted, they made sure, you draft good players, you groom them in the way of your culture, and then you keep them, especially if they’re great.”
While Bakari does make a decent point regarding the Steelers not taking advantage of the opportunity to sign Bell to a long-term, lucrative contract after either his second was over, he left out the fact that his client also got in trouble with the law just ahead of the 2015 season getting underway. Those DUI and marijuana possession charges resulted in Bell being suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season. In short, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see the Steelers not sign Bell to a long-term contract extension prior to the start of his third season because of his off-the-field issue.
So, what about the Steelers not signing Bell long-term after his third season? Yes, they had the option to do that as well, however, it’s also important to remember that midway through that 2015 regular season that Bell suffered a serious knee injury that required him missing the rest of it. That surgery rehab obviously took some time and let’s also not forget that Bell was suspended another three regular season games in August of 2016 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The knee injury and a second suspension were more than enough reason for the Steelers to not sign Bell long-term before the start of the 2016 regular season.
After the 2016 season came and went with Bell not getting a new long-term contract, the Steelers only option at that point was to place the franchise tag on the running back and hope they could work out an extension with him prior to middle of July deadline. After failing to extend Bell by the deadline, the running back sat out training camp and the preseason before finally reporting to the team the Friday after their final preseason game and signing his franchise tag on Labor Day, the Monday before the Steelers Week 1 game.
This past offseason, we’ve seen a repeat of last offseason only this time, however, Bell looks like he’ll now sit out multiple weeks and maybe even just over half of it.
On Wednesday, in addition to blaming the Steelers for not getting Bell signed long-term after the running back’s second or third season, Bakari essentially once again blamed the way the organization negotiates long-term term deals with their players who don’t play the quarterback position as the reason why no contract was accepted from his client the last two offseasons. That implied blame on the Steelers organization from Bakari came in response to him being asked if it was just too difficult for him to negotiate a contract for Bell like the one that fellow NFL running back Todd Gurley went on to sign with the Los Angeles Rams just a few weeks after this year’s July deadline had passed for Pittsburgh to sign the running back long-term.
“The Todd Gurley situation was unique primarily for two reasons. One, I mean, look, the guarantees, certainly, the Steelers, the Bengals, and the Packers, they don’t guarantee P5 [paragraph 5] base salary portions of a contract,” Bakari said. “So, you could not, right, without pressure from a competing team to possibly sign your player away, a la free agency, or transition tag, or something like that, you could not negotiate that type of structure with one of those three teams just mentioned. Right? Because they don’t do deals that way except for their quarterbacks.
“So, but the other thing, that’s the thing that’s very distinguishing with respect to Gurley, is that he had two years remaining on his deal. He had 2018 and 2019 fifth-year option and then they had the possibility of two franchise tags thereafter. So, if you really study Gurley’s deal with that in mind, you walk away with a different appreciation of the total value of the deal. But again, those are nuances and intricacies that folks who do what I do and do what GMs do could better appreciate.
“So, the Gurley situation is very different than Le’Veons situation, is very different from David Johnson’s situation in Arizona. These are all, they play the same position, or at least they’re characterized as the same position on the field, but their contractual situations are very distinct.”