Entering his fifth season in 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell talked about his contract situation in grandiose terms, speaking on behalf of the running back position and stating that he wanted to be a sort of pioneer for that group of players, which at the top of the market had been undercompensated for several years.
While we are beginning to see the market at the position readjust itself to where it could have been (perhaps if the talent had been there consistently during that dip), we may also be beginning to see the broader impact and influence of Bell’s contract saga, which most notably included his choosing to sit out a season.
After the Steelers placed a second franchise tag on Bell in 2018, and they subsequently were unable to work out a long-term contract, Bell seemed to waffle a number of times about what his plans were, but he ultimately chose not to report, never stepping into a football facility throughout the year.
He did so, turning down over $14 million in the process, in order to preserve his body and ensure his health as he hits unrestricted free agency. The gamble that still remains is that the Steelers potentially place the transition tag on him, but that seems unlikely at this point, and even if they did, the report is that it would be aimed at trading him.
Could other players follow in Bell’s footsteps? The most likely candidate this year is Dallas Cowboys edge defender DeMarcus Lawrence, who already played under the franchise tag in 2018. It’s unlikely that the two sides agree to a long-term deal by the start of free agency, which figures to set up another year of negotiations under the tag.
And could ultimately see Lawrence do what Bell did, and stay away if no long-term deal is reached. In order to do so, he would have to turn down over $20 million, which is the value of the franchise tag for his position in 2019.
But Lawrence is regarded as one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL, and if he can hit the open market in 2020, he could secure for himself one of the largest contracts in NFL history, or at least for a non-quarterback, similar to Khalil Mack a year ago.
The edge defender has reportedly said that he won’t sign a second franchise tag, as Bell also chose not to do. That would place the burden on the Cowboys to pay up or risk losing him altogether, in addition to being forced to play a season without him, and unable to use those financial resources in the meantime.