Now that the Antonio Brown saga is finally over, Steelers fans can look to see how Le'Veon Bell will fare in free agency moving forward. Will Bell get the money he wants? Or will he end up signing a lower deal than the reported $70 million that the Steelers offered last year?
Many Steelers fans might want to see Bell fail to get a higher offer than the Steelers profferred, so here are a few reasons why he may not get what he wants.
First, some of the reasons that are obvious many fans already know. Bell has had multiple injuries that have forced him to sit out. Even though these are not technically his fault, he has still missed playing time due to those injuries. What was his fault were the suspensions and declaring that he will not play an entire season in 2018.
The Steelers have played 103 games since they drafted Bell, and he has only played in 65 of them. If you do not want to count last season where he sat out, then up until this past season, Bell still only played 65 games out of 87.
As Bell gets older in the running back world, injuries and suspensions are not something a team likes to see when trying to sign a free agent and give them a blockbuster deal. He is 27 this coming season, and the age where good running backs start to fall off is 30.
Of course, teams are wary that Bell sitting out a year also caused him to get out of football shape. I believe Bell has continued to make sure he is in top physical condition, but there is no denying that he is nowhere near football shape considering his last game was on January 14th, 2017.
Is that significant in the long run? Maybe not, but it definitely doesn't help when you add the injuries, suspensions, and bank-breaking contract on the table.
Next, Bell will need to find a team that has the cap space to actually sign him. Realistically, the only teams that have enough money to sign Bell this year (2019) are the Bengals, Bills, Browns, Colts, Jets, Raiders, Texans, and 49ers.
Those are a lot of teams, but how many of them need a running back? Of course, any team would be lucky to have the caliber running back he is, but would it be worth the money to replace someone you already have?
The Bengals recently drafted Joe Mixon, the Bills already have Le'Sean McCoy, the Browns just drafted Nick Chubb, and the Texans have Lamar Miller. Bell would be an upgrade over all of those running backs, but then again he would be an upgrade over almost any running back in the league... but costly.
The Colts, Jets, Raiders, and 49ers are all teams said to be linked to signing Bell, but are they willing to pay him the $17 million a year that he wants?
Next, teams will have to consider the upcoming NFL Draft. Teams may not get the "best" running back in the NFL via the Draft, but history has shown that you don't need the "best" running back in the league to win a Super Bowl; you just need one or two good ones.
James Conner, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt (before the off-the-field issues), Kenyan Drake, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, and David Johnson were all drafted in the third round.
Tarik Cohen, Devonta Freeman, and James White were all selected in the 4th.
Aaron Jones, Jordan Howard, and Jay Ajayi, were selected in the 5th.
These were some of the better backs drafted since Bell and all of them were drafted in lower rounds than Bell. Many have proven their worth to their respective teams and proved that a single player at the position on one team isn't necessary to be successful.
Finally, I want to cross over to another sport, but bear with me. This past off-season, the MLB had two of the biggest players in the league going through free agency. I first want to preface this by saying yes, this is a different league. There are different rules, different ways of handling free agency, but here is my point:
The MLB free agency period this past off-season started on November 3rd, 2018. Two players, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were two of the biggest stars to go through free agency that the MLB has seen in recent history. These players were asking for big money, and they were stubborn about it. So stubborn, in fact, that it took Machado until February 21st, 2019 for him to receive and sign a contract; 111 days after free agency started. Harper did not sign his contract until March 2nd, 2019; 120 days after free agency started.
Both of these players got paid a lot of money, and the MLB contracts are much different than the NFL. Both players were reportedly asking upwards of $400 million, but each of them fell short. Machado signed a contract of $300 million for ten years and Harper signed $330 million for thirteen years.
Le'Veon will get paid, like Manny and Bryce, but maybe not in the price range he asked for.
Overall, it just takes one team to offer a deal worth $17 million per year in order for this to be a win for Bell. Will he achieve what he set out for? Perhaps, but it will be very hard for teams to buy into a contract that large for a player that has baggage, especially when they could have success with multiple players at the running back position for less of a cap hit and overall contract money.