When Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell failed to report to the team by the league’s CBA mandated November 13th deadline, he became the first player to have received his club’s franchise tender (guaranteeing the player a one-year salary worth the average value of the top 5 player salaries at the position), elect not to sign it and sit out an entire season since Washington Redskins defensive lineman Sean Gilbert did it in 1997; Gilbert signed a massive $46.5 million pact with the Carolina Panthers the following offseason. Bell, who received the team’s franchise tag for a 2nd season in a row in 2018 (he played for $12 million in ’17), is determined to sign a lucrative long-term contract before putting his body at further risk.
Le’Veon’s contract struggles (and the short career spans of NFL running backs) made an impact on North Carolina high school standout Quavaris Crouch; the nation’s top RB prospect has decided he’ll play on the defensive side of the ball next year. Crouch said he “wants to be smart about (his financial future)” and “realistically, I feel like (playing) linebacker is the best (long-term career move).”
Howie Long-Short: It’s impossible to construct an argument that would position Bell’s decision to sit out the 2018 season as a wise one. Had he reported following the teams’ 10th game, he would have earned +/- $6 million for the remainder of this season and gained a year’s credit towards free agency; meaning, the club could only force him to play under the franchise tag for one more season (worth the average value of the top 5 player salaries in the league). Instead, he’s missed an entire year in the prime of his career (which won’t help his HOF aspirations), forfeited the entirety of the $14.5 million tender (would have been 8% of team cap) and should the club opt to retain his services, will remain under the control of the Pittsburgh football franchise for at least 2 more seasons. Pittsburgh could tag Bell again, but it would cost them between $25-$26 million against a $190 million cap and the emergence of James Connor (850 rushing yards, 10 TDs & another 450 yards receiving with 1 TD) would seem to make Bell’s presence unnecessary; he’ll scheduled to become a free-agent in March.
Le’Veon Bell turned down lucrative extensions in ’17 (would have paid him +/- 50% more than the 2nd highest paid RB at time) & ’18 (5 years, $70 million) and walked away from the $14.5 million franchise tender this season. Todd Gurley is currently the league’s top paid RB ($15 million). For Bell to get a deal worth even +33% more than Gurley on an annual basis and recoup the $14.5 million missed out on in ’18, he’ll need to land a deal worth at least $74.5 million over its first 3 years. There is NO chance Bell is getting a deal worth $25 million/year, an agreement that would tie him with Derek Carr & Andrew Luck as the 6th highest paid players (on an annual basis) in the league; behind just Rodgers, Ryan, Cousins, Garoppolo and Stafford.
Bell received some bad advice, several times over, but his desire for long-term security in a league where the average RB career is 2.5 years is understandable (as a 2nd round pick in ‘13, he’s earned just $16 million over 5 seasons); which is why I too would have advised Quavaris Crouch to change positions. The NFL has become a passing league, teams view players at the position as replaceable and they’re using multiple guys to fill specific roles.
Sure, Adrian Peterson made just under $100 million in his career, but that’s $30 million more than the next highest paid RB of his generation; by comparison, pass rushing linebackers Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Justin Houston are playing under 6 year deals worth $141 million, $114 million and $100 million respectively. Crouch will certainly get paid if he can reach the QB as a pass rusher on the collegiate level, but he’s not done scoring touchdowns just yet; the H.S. running back is reportedly looking for a program that will allow him to carry the ball in goal line packages.
Fan Marino: One club that is expected to have interest in Bell should he hit free agency is the NY Jets. With $106.5 million to spend and a QB under a cap friendly rookie contract, the club is expected to add offensive playmakers (and protection) for rookie QB Sam Darnold. I had the chance to chat with Jets Hall of Fame QB Joe Namath at the March of Dimes luncheon on Tuesday afternoon and asked him if he thought the Jets should invest heavily in the running back position this upcoming offseason?
Namath: I would start with the offensive line because all the running backs in pro football are good. Some will separate themselves, some are special; John Riggins, Jimmy Brown, Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen. Cats like that are special, but the remainder need a strong offensive line.
I’m with Joe. As a Jets fan, I’m not interested in Bell. Those in his corner will tout his NFL leading 406 touches last season, but he didn’t have a single carry for 30 yards and he’s hardly the ironman that total would imply; Bell missed nearly 25% of the team’s games during his time in Pittsburgh, including most or all of 3 consecutive playoff losses. The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs in 7 seasons (going on 8), but I’m certain when they get back that they’ll want their highest paid players on the field.
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