Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
steelers.com

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.

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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”:

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.)

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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.

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:

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.

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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?





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  1. VinHudd says:

    Great article Joe. I especially liked your pt towards then end, completely agree w/you and hope no true Steeler fans will turn on him this season but it’s probably inevitable. I’m already waiting for the Bum and Good Riddance remarks from some.
    Personally I fall into the don’t pay that obscene amount, use the savings on a S, Pass Rusher, LB. Look for a talented RB early in the draft. 2 questions for you Joe. Any chance they rescind the franchise tag offer and let him go? Do you think Connor is talented enough to be a good RB next season? Personally I don’t believe so but granted he hasn’t had many opportunities.

    • Joe Kuzma says:

      I don’t see any reason to rescind it. Not sure who or what they’d spend the money on at this point in time and of what value would it be to dump Bell when he can help your team be better this season?

      There’s a lot of Conner hype and I believe behind this OL he could be solid. But I don’t believe in him being an every down back either.

      Pair Conner with Samuels (5th round pick) and a veteran like Ridley, and I believe this stable of backs is more than capable just like the Patriots, Eagles or others are, on a budget price tag too.

  2. Bell’s average yards per reception are not enough to qualify as a #2 receiver. And with many pro bowlers on offense to pave the way for him, 4.0 yards per carry are not enough to be impressive. No carries over 29 yards. As high as his total production is, he can’t actually play 2 positions at once, so it’s ridiculous to pay him as if he could. You’re right that it’s too late to spend the money elsewhere this season, but they could’ve carried the cap space over to next year. As it stands, I agree to hope he has a great 2018, but I’ll be hoping to say good riddance after that.

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