Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell

You know, I am old enough to have been a Creedence Clearwater Revival fan when nobody ever heard of CD's, and people thought vinyl sounded scratchy and hated it. So I guess it's no big surprise that lately John Fogerty lyrics have been running through my head (albeit from his solo career, not from his days with CCR).

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

- John Fogerty "Déjà vu (All Over Again)

In the land of the Black and Gold, there is no doubt that it's Déjà Vu all over again.

I'm going to stay in Pittsburgh. I want to stay in Pittsburgh. That's the ultimate goal to get that done. But that's the way business goes, so who really knows?

Sounds so familiar. Was that quote delivered a year ago, or just recently when Bell went on Instagram live to answer fans deep and insightful questions, such as "Who is the funniest Steeler?", and "Is water wet?" Interspersed with the absurd, Bell did manage to address some of the actual concerns that have arisen about his future with the Steelers.

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Being Valued?

When Bell was asked "Why so much money?" he fell back on the familiar narrative that "it's not about the money, it's about being valued."   Bell has also said that he wants to "reset the running back market", another holdover theme from last season. I have to wonder if either of those statements is really true? I mean, let's look at what Bell turned down.

Last year, according to Bell in an interview with Jeremey Fowler, the Steelers offered him a contract worth $42 million over the first three years, and an average of $13.3 million over the life of the deal. At that time, LeSean McCoy was the highest paid running back in the league, with a $40 million contract averaging out at $8 million per year. The Steelers offer would

That sounds like being valued to me. Being paid nearly almost$ 5.3 million more per year (a 66.24 percent increase over McCoy's salary) might qualify as resetting the market. Bell expressed his concern about helping set a new trend that other backs would benefit from. He wanted a legacy. I wonder if the deal Devonta Freeman sign might have looked different had Bell signed his deal before Freeman's contract negotiations. Maybe the first beneficiary of his "legacy" would have been Devonta?

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Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson

In recent conversations, Bell has, as he did in his Instagram session, talked about Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, and what they made during their prime. He states that Peterson signed a contract worth over $14 million a year, and Chris Johnson signed one worth over $12. Sorry, those numbers don't appear to be valid. Peterson's contract never provided him a base salary over $11.25 million. His max season was 20.5 million because of a 12 million dollar signing bonus. The average annual was $12.5. That's not quite the number Le'Veon thought.

Chris Johnson's contracts are even more wildly inaccurate. Johnson only ever made over $12 million one season (2011) where he netted $13 million, $10 million from a signing bonus. His average over the time of his contract with the Titans? $10.3 million. Sorry, but the numbers don't add up to what Bell thinks they do.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

The truth is, the comparison between Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Le'Veon Bell could be used, but not for what he thinks. It's far more a cautionary tale of why teams cannot overpay for one position (unless that position happens to be QB). The Vikings and the Titans paid their running backs heavily. Peterson spent 10 years with the Vikings. Exactly how many Super Bowls did they win during that time? Even more, telling the Vikings managed exactly as many winning seasons (4) as they did losing seasons (4) during Peterson's tenure.

It's no better for Chris Johnson and the Titans. 4 losing season vs. 2 winning seasons during Johnson's time in Tennessee. The problem with overpaying for a running back is you don't have the money to do anything else. The reason running backs are valued where they are is because teams have made the determination that you can win games and championships without an elite running back. In the last 15 Super Bowls, other than maybe Marshawn Lynch, how many elite running backs were parts of those games?

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The Steelers Are Unique

There is a truth that the Steelers offense, and how Bell fits into it, is different. The offense and the blocking schemes have become tailored for Bell. I would be willing to project that Bell wouldn't be nearly as successful in a different offense, but it is possible the Steelers could be almost as successful with a different running back.

I believe strongly that the best thing for all parties would be to work out a deal that keeps Bell in Pittsburgh until he retires, or the tires fall off. He will have the most success here, and the team will have a consistent weapon. The only way that happens is if Bell is willing to accept that it's not all about him, and it's not all about his value. It's about what benefits the team the most.

Again, Bell has said that it's all about winning number seven. It's all about bringing that trophy back to Pittsburgh. Forgive me for my short-sightedness, but I don't see how threatening to hold out and not show up until game four or maybe game 10 is "all bout championships". Bell can say it's not true as much as he wants, but that kind of talk is "all about" one thing. Le'Veon Bell.

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I don't want to be viewed as a Bell hater. I am not. I've met him more than once, and my daughter loves him. You know that slants me towards being Bell-centric. I don't blame Bell for trying to get the best deal he possibly can. Nobody would. The bottom line is that there comes a time when you have to allow reality to come into play as well as dreams.

The reality is that the Steelers, and I would contend no team, is going to hamstring themselves to pay Bell what he claims he wants. The offer the Steelers gave him last year was fair, perhaps even more than fair. The fact that they moved UP on that offer this year, rather than down after another year of mileage, is also fair and speaks to their true desire to keep Bell in Pittsburgh. It speaks to his value to the team.

I find myself questioning how much I trust what Bell says anymore. Last year Bell offered to treat a fan who had always been loyal to him to a game "on Bell". Hotel, airfare, tickets – it was all going to be provided. Guess what? It never happened. Does Bell owe that fan what he offered? Of course not. Still, if you're not willing to honor the deal, don't offer the deal. It speaks to character, and it makes me wonder exactly where Bell's mind is in all of this.

Does he really "want to stay in Pittsburgh"? One minute he's saying he'll play under the tag, and show up for game one, and the next he flip-flops and says maybe it will be game four or maybe later. He's claimed he both will and won't play under the tag. He's said he will retire if he's tagged.

The question of trust becomes pretty self-evident, doesn't it? Can we trust Le'Veon Bell at his word? And even if we can, which words are the ones we can trust?

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I'm still in the camp that wants the Steelers and Bell to find common ground. I still want the storybook ending. I want to see Le'Veon retire as the top running back in the history of the team, and maybe even a potential Hall of Famer.

I just don't expect it anymore.

The Steelers, as so many people say, are undefeated in contract negotiations. I don't expect that to change. The Steelers have made Bell offers that have both reset the running back market and show the value they place on Bell and his contributions to the team. For him to indicate otherwise is honestly disingenuous. To top it off, when you start threatening to miss games you are now clearly saying it's not about the team or winning, it's about you.

Bell can't even show up for anything (OTAs, camp, or even games) until and unless he signs the tag. He can claim he showed no rust last year by missing everything, but he did. He knows it, and the team knows it. Still, as long as he's there for game one, I don't really mind that much. Miss a game, and that's a different story. Miss a single game and that's a player I don't want on my team. That's a player who values himself more than his team or his teammates. Miss a game, and if I was the Steelers, I'd rescind the tag, and let Bell walk.

Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. The rhetoric has already elevated from what it was last year. Maybe it will work itself out. Maybe somewhere in all of this, calmer heads will prevail. The deadline for finalizing a deal is in the middle of July so there is time. This is truly the final stage of the process though. If Bell doesn't sign, this will be his last year in Pittsburgh. So, one way or another, his future beyond 2018 will be known come July.

And as much as I like John Fogerty, I really don't want to be singing Deja Vu (All Over Again) before camp starts.

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  1. Good article. I emphatically agree with you on most points — especially the “Steelers did try to help him reset the market last year” statement.

    I was once in the “sign Bell as long as you don’t totally hamstring the team” camp. However, recently, the MORE he says, the further I slide back into the “let him walk. Peace out bro. Best to you” camp. And if he keeps talking, I slide right into the “wait until the July deadline, then rescind the tag and let him walk” camp. Then most teams have spent all their money and makes it even tougher for him. I’m not in that camp yet…. but keep talking. 3-4 more of his recent disingenuous comments and I set my tent up…

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