Give Le’Veon Bell this: He does not lack confidence.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back is holding out, and how he got to this point has been an interesting story. When the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term deal came and went, there were reports that Bell had turned down a large contract from the Steelers. It was such a nice amount that Bell’s agent agreed to it and the Steelers thought they had a deal, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Friday. But Bell nixed the offer, the report said, in essence betting on himself this season.
While the amount of guaranteed money in the contract has still never been revealed, Bouchette reported it was worth $12 million a season and contained $30 million in the first two seasons. It’s hard to imagine many scenarios in which Bell would have been let go before the 2018 season. Instead, Bell will play for $12.1 million this season on the franchise tag, which is a one-year deal. Bouchette wrote that the Steelers were “baffled” that Bell didn’t sign the long-term contract.
It’s a gamble by Bell. Bouchette pointed out that Bell seems to want to make $15 million a season (he had a “15 a year” rap lyric in one of his songs this offseason), though that seems high for any running back in this era. Bell is first among running backs in average annual salary with his $12.1 million over one season, and Devonta Freeman has the second highest average at $8.25 million over the course of his new deal. No other running back makes more than $8 million per season on their current contract. For Bell to turn down $12 million a season, when no other back is making anywhere near that, is a bold move. He is arguably the best running back in the NFL, and was on the fringe of the MVP race last season, so if any back would make that kind of money next offseason it would be Bell.
It will be an interesting seven months or so for Bell. He’s holding out, and although everyone expects him to be on the field for the regular-season opener, there will be the concern he will be more susceptible to injury after not participating in training camp or preseason. If he does have a big season – he does have a bit of an injury history – then the Steelers will have to decide what to do. Among their options would be to give Bell the franchise tag again, at about $14.5 million. If the Steelers tag Bell again, would he hold out longer than just the preseason next year?
All these questions will be answered in the upcoming months. By turning down what appears to be a pretty good contract for a running back, Bell has given us an interesting tale to track.
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