There has been no shortage of hot takes since the news broke that Pittsburgh could not reach a long-term deal with Le’Veon Bell. Some believe that Bell will not be playing in the steel city after the upcoming season concludes; there is already speculation going on as to which teams he is likely to end up signing with.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Pittsburgh offered Bell a five-year deal that would pay him over $12 million annually, and $30 million total over the first two years. That deal would have made him the highest paid running back in the league. Bell obviously believes he is worth more than he was offered, and cites a devaluation of the running back position as to why he was unable to land the money he desired.
It is unknown how much money Bell is seeking, but he did rap about wanting $15 million per season on his next deal. If that number really is what he believes he should get, he may have already priced himself out of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are very calculated when handling these types of situations, and tend to be stubborn in contract talks. When a player asks for more money than they believe he is worth, they’re not afraid to let him walk. If Pittsburgh believes Bell is worth $12 million annually, it’s unlikely that they will raise that offer significantly. Steelers fans might remember similar situations occurring with Plaxico Burress and Mike Wallace.
Bell believes the running back position as a whole should be valued higher than it is currently. In a conversation with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, he said (referring to running backs) “We block, we run, and we catch the ball. Our value isn’t where it needs to be.” Unfortunately for Bell, and the rest of the backs in the league, the value of the position has decreased significantly as running backs have become a dime per dozen. Also, the “feature back” is becoming an endangered species, as more teams are opting to go with a committee approach to their running attack.
In today’s NFL, it’s not extremely difficult for NFL teams to find quality running backs to carry the rock. However, finding a running back — or any player, for that matter — like Le’Veon Bell is near impossible. Over his first four seasons, the “do everything” back has averaged 1,011 rushing yards and 501 receiving yards per season. He was also ranked ninth on the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2017.
Should Bell be valued higher? I think the Steelers got it right by offering him $12 million annually; the second-highest paid running back is Le’Sean McCoy, who is set to make $8 million this season. However, if he becomes a free agent, there will undoubtedly be teams willing to pay him whatever he wants.
The Steelers know that a player like Bell doesn’t come around often, and they’ll do everything within reason to keep him. However, they won’t gut their team to do so. Key players Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt and Alejandro Villanueva are all due for contract extensions, and the team would like to keep all of them. Paying Bell more than $12 million per year could possibly mean having to cut ties with one of those three.
Steelers fans had better enjoy this season with Bell on the team, because he could be gone in 2018.