Being paid the best when you are the best at your profession isn’t something to look down upon.
That’s the way I feel about the Steelers contract negotiations with Le’Veon Bell which came to a screeching halt yesterday as the deadline to extend franchise tagged players came to an end. It was reported that both Bell’s agent and the Steelers organization were working down to the wire to come to an agreement on a long-term deal.
For the second straight season, those talks fell through.
The consensus is that the All-Pro running back felt that he was more than a running back and demanded a salary which would’ve made him, not only far and above the highest paid at his position, but one of the highest paid players not only in Pittsburgh but the entire national football league.
Bell wanted to reset the running back market. But he also wants to be paid like a wide receiver: which isn’t much of a reach when you think of his production catching the football. We’ve often said here that he is the number two wide receiver for the Steelers.
His numbers justify that statement.
Le’Veon caught 85 passes in 2017, the tenth most in the league and a single season career-high. That was also good for, you guessed it, second-best on his own team: the third time that’s been the case in Bell’s five seasons with the Steelers.
That why when you look at what Bell has accomplished as a running back and a receiver and then start to look at wide receiver contracts versus that of his defined position in the backfield, you could get a sense for why the individual feels he should be valued higher than even the highest paid running backs.
Bell’s tag brings a $14.5 million average price tag for 2018, but the next highest-paid running backs don’t even sniff the $10 million mark. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman has an $8.2 million average this upcoming season followed by Bills RB LeSean McCoy ($8.0 million) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 million). Compare those with the top receiver contracts and the appearance of Bell looking greedy changes drastically. Antonio Brown deserves his $17 million without a doubt. DeAndre Hopkins has earned his $16.2 million also.
But then there’s Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, who may have had 1,000-plus receiving yards, but only caught 71 passes. Evans scored five times to Bell’s two as a receiver, but guess what Evans doesn’t do?
Run the football.
Ditto for the equally unimpressive Sammy Watkins, who will earn $16 million with the Chiefs in 2018. Watkins had the 106th most receptions of all pass catchers last season. His 593 yards were also well short of Bell’s 655.
Still, an argument is made about paying the “position” and not the “player”:
Via Le'Veon Bell's agent Adisa Bakari: "His intention was to retire as a Steeler. But now that there's no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le'Veon's last season as a Steeler."
More: "It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player."
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 16, 2018
I feel Bell’s agent is being a little disingenuous with their statement. The financial terms which were leaked yesterday appear to be fair when even comparing against other positions. But nonetheless, Bell is a special talent.
He’s not even the first player to do something like this, asking for money another position is paid. Former Saints TE Jimmy Graham attempted to get his franchise tag changed from a tight end to a wide receiver based on his on-field efforts. Like Graham, we can almost expect Bell to leave town due to the disagreements between the player and management. (Only time will tell.)
However, for all of the above reasons I can’t be upset that Bell is using his only recourse, to hold out, for a better deal. He’s clearly more than a running back and when you consider 21 receivers have a higher average base salary entering 2018 than Devonta Freeman, then yes, Bell is a special talent who deserves to be paid.
Let’s ask this question: would you prefer paying this pair of Jaguars receivers, Marquise Lee $8.5 million and Donte Moncrief $9.6 million, or cave to Bell’s demands?
I suppose that’s a loaded question because there are other mitigating factors, but it also proves the point that players like Lee, Moncrief, and at least Watkins (I’ll leave Evans out for now) are not more valuable to their teams than Bell is to the Steelers.
Just to clarify:
Steelers' offer to Le'Veon Bell last year averaged $13.3 million per year.
Steelers' offer to him this year averaged $15 million per year.
But Bell does not believe he should be paid as a RB; he believes he should be paid as an elite offensive weapon.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 17, 2018
Now, I can sympathize with the players and I will support them. However, where I become disappointed is when you hear of the contract numbers that seem more than fair when you consider what a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers can actually afford when factoring in their salary cap and playing for current and future players. I’m not sure that the Steelers could’ve offered any more money to Bell and still remained a contender who could keep other key pieces of their core team together for future seasons.
Would you mortgage the future for the present? I’m not so sure.
All of these statements side with Bell. While I’ll still support him, it doesn’t mean that myself and others can’t be frustrated with seeing a player who is setting franchise marks potentially walk away after this season. My main area of disappointment when I look at this entire situation is reading Bell’s most recent Tweet about the contract negotiations:
to all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler...both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times...to the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let youu down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date...
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 16, 2018
It’s not as if these two parties only had one, two, or three days, or three weeks to try and put a deal together.
No. In fact, this has been an ongoing saga, not only since the beginning of this year but headed back into the last offseason. For whatever reason, the two parties couldn’t come together on what would’ve been a mega deal for a Steelers team that never signs players to mega deals.
I always had this inkling that Bell would not be signing at the zero hour, so I wasn’t as shocked as some appeared to be on Monday. By the same token, I don’t like the insinuation that something couldn’t have been done sooner. For what it’s worth, I feel like this situation is much like LeBron James and his “decision”: Bell already knows what he wants to do next season and he’s simply biding his time while (mostly) biting his lip.
It’s a difficult situation to discuss because we all know Bell is worth the moon, but we also know the Steelers can’t offer the moon and remain a competitive team. How can you ask other players to take a pay cut, or worse, lose their jobs, to pay a single player? Football is meant to be the ultimate team sport and when you hear of mega money contract terms such as this, we all tend to think “how much is enough?”
Regardless, this doesn’t mean I won’t be supporting Bell any less this season. I will still be in my seat or in front of the TV rooting for him to be his best. To do anything less would be unsupportive of the Steelers.
Would I like Bell to be a part of a dynasty for years to come? Of course. Who wouldn’t?
For now, Le’Veon will still be wearing a black and gold uniform for at least the 2018 season (provided he signs his tender). What happens in the future is anyone’s guess and should be left there: in the future.
Presently I just want to see the Steelers put together another championship run. Hopefully, Bell is a part of those plans. Even if it’s for the short-term, who wouldn’t want a seventh Super Bowl trophy in the trophy case?