When Le’Veon Bell first began contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 after they placed the first of two franchise tags on him, he framed his position with historicity, considering himself a pioneer or trailblazer of sorts for a revolution of the running back market. Whether or not he actually cared, the notion was that his efforts would lead to a new frontier for the position financially.
To that end—or rather to his own end—he skipped the 2018 season rather than sign a franchise tag for the second time, which would have paid him over $14 million, but would have put his body at risk of injury that could have hindered his ability to sign a lucrative long-term contract in 2019.
Meanwhile, his former teammate Antonio Brown has had front office personnel worried that his methods of forcing a trade out of his current contract and essentially treating himself as a free agent while under a deal would catch on. He has managed to burn that bridge as much as he took a blowtorch to his trade value.
At the moment, neither of them seem likely to be pioneers of new-wave business tactics for players based on the results of their actions. The first test of a player seeking to emulate Bell’s decision to skip a season came and went with the Dallas Cowboys’ Demarcus Lawrence, who just signed a huge five-year, $105 million contract.
He played under the franchise tag in 2017, and the Cowboys tagged him again, but they were able to work out a long-term contract this time. When he was asked if he weighed the possibility of not playing in 2019, he had a clear answer to that.
“You ain’t got to worry about that. It wasn’t going to be a Le’Veon situation. I ain’t skipping $20 million for nobody“, he said. Soon after Lawrence got his contract, he also got surgery to repair a shoulder injury that he suffered in 2018.
Quite frankly, it will be interesting to see several years from now which parties who have been involved in these two players’ situations—by that I mean Brown and Bell—end up regretting the decisions that they made.
Bell may have stayed healthy, but that was still $14 million he can’t make up, and he signed a contract with a lower value threshold than the one the Steelers offered, the only bugaboo being ‘fully’ guaranteed money versus practical guarantees.
As for Brown, he certainly got paid, but does he look or sound happy to you? I don’t think so. And I don’t think the Oakland Raiders are thrilled with how he’s spent his first few weeks there on social media. The New York Jets…well, can Bell be their Curtis Martin? That’s the only way they won’t regret this signing. They need to be a playoff team, soon, with a franchise quarterback and running back in place.