Le'Veon Bell is back in the news, and as usual, the hysteria is of his own doing.
On Monday the franchise-tagged running back took to Twitter to send a cryptic message to his followers:
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) May 14, 2018
Rather than explaining his motives using Twitter's recently expanded 280 character limit, it only took Bell 37 total characters to stir the pot this time. But what are his motives? What's going on on September 9th, 2018?
- Is it a special engagement at the local Dairy Queen?
- The launch of a gaming console? (Sega's Dreamcast came out on 9/9/99 for you youngin's!)
- Maybe Bell is announcing his retirement from pro football, so this is a "save the date"?
Or maybe, there was nothing controversial about the message, and the general public wasn't paying attention. September 9th is the start of the Steelers regular season when they open up at Cleveland.
Combined with a photo of himself in a Steelers uniform, does this mean Bell plans to play in a black and gold jersey in 2018? Does it also mean he plans to make good on sitting out another training camp this year?
Until he signs his franchise tag, all bets are off except for one: Le'Veon Bell, deliberately or not, will be a distraction until September 9th.
And possibly after too.
Constantly having to address the media, the player, and his agent is, in fact, is a distraction to a team trying to prepare to build their 2018 roster. This has dragged on beyond the better part of two years now, with negotiations starting back in 2016 during Bell's final year of his rookie contract. There has been a lot of back and forth since then, and Bell's sitting out of camp last season, while making passive aggressive comments on social media, all add to it.
It's a distraction.
It's why the team said "enough" and wouldn't bother discussing what they've already gone back and forth on for years, a long-term deal, until after the draft. The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone, and there hasn't been any chatter on a new contract or practically anything about Bell. That's probably helped the Steelers front office keep their sanity, until now.
Of course, the focus will soon shift to Bell's demands versus the Steelers offers. Here at SCU, we've never been in the "not wanting to pay Bell" camp. However, there's a certain reality that sets in when the reported figured Bell wants is $5 million more than any other running back has ever been paid.
And double the next highest-paid player.
There's a line of thought that Pittsburgh is just "running the wheels off" of Bell. Chew him up, and spit him out. That's the business of pro football.
However, that same business wasn't business as usual for the Steelers, who converted all of injured LB Ryan Shazier's salary to a bonus, so he could be paid in full despite an announcement that he won't be playing a down in 2018.
Suggesting the Steelers "use up" a player isn't a good insinuation for a standup organization. It's a slippery slope to claim that any NFL franchise rides a player until the break. It may appear that way outside of the box, but everyone's body reacts differently, and unlike other sports, there is definitely a finite shelf life for pro football players.
I'm of the opinion players are fairly compensated for their work and value. If Bell weren't any good, he wouldn't be getting carries. If he didn't get carries, he wouldn't even be part of this discussion.
Bell also wouldn't be getting the type of money he is now on the franchise tag.
But that doesn't appear to be enough. So who is at fault? If the Steelers were unwilling to pay Bell a lot of money, they wouldn't have franchise tagged him to make him the highest-paid back in football last season.
And they certainly wouldn't have tagged him yet again this offseason.
I understand what Le'Veon wants: financial security. He's also asking for more than that, more than the Steelers have ever given any player in their history (and that's a "guarantee" of said money, in writing).
I don't fault Bell necessarily, but at some point, the two have to meet in the middle on this. When you sign up to play football, you know what you're doing. When you're in high school it might be for fun or to be part of the team. Others are looking to parlay it into a college education (which may be partially or wholly covered by scholarship).
When these players enter the pros, then they have to run the gamut of playing to a second contract, if they can make it.
That's where Bell is at now. He wants that big second contract, knowing that running backs often don't make it to a third. Whether the Steelers cave to his demands is yet to be seen. It's doubtful they'd even consider a costly franchise tag again in 2019, so if a long-term contract is on the horizon, the two will have to tango soon.
In that respect, Bell's next tweet should be "7-16-18" which is the last date a designed Franchise Player can sign a multiyear deal. After that, Le'Veon and the Steelers can only agree on a one-year contract.
Training camp for the Steelers begins July 25th: from now until the 16th and then after, we can expect a lot of "noise" surrounding Bell's future. If last year is any indication, that noise will carry into camp, the preseason, and quite possibly into the regular season too.
"9-9-18" could be a repeat for Le'Veon in more ways than one. If he happens to sit out offseason workouts like last season, this could be the first time we see him play. It's also against the same opponent, the Browns, as last season.
In that game, Bell carried the ball ten times for 32 yards, a 3.2 average. He only caught half of his passes for 15 yards and failed to score.
It took Bell two games before exceeding over four yards per carry in 2017, and he didn't amass 100 scrimmage yards until Week 4 against the Ravens.
For a player expected to be an All-Pro with a chance of accumulating 2,000 or more yards from scrimmage in a season, those numbers were disappointing.
Bell's "slow start" also became an unnecessary distraction... one of many that could also be avoided in 2018, but will more than likely surface over and over until there's a concrete answer on Le'Veon's status.