All I’m Going to Say About Le’Veon Bell


UPDATE:Sources” (which usually turn out to be more or less correct in such matters) say that Bell was offered a contract which would pay $42 million in the first three years, $30 million of it in the first two years. [I don’t think the total length of the contract is known, but it was clearly at least three years.] Financially it would mean he would get an addition $3 million in 2017, some additional pocket change in 2018 (the second franchise tag for 2018 is estimated to be around $14.5 million or so,) and still be paid $12 million in 2019 if a new deal isn’t negotiated, or he isn’t pretty much done, which seems more likely. As it it, the $12.1 million he’s getting this season is $3.5 million more than any other RB in the league. The speculation is that there might have been provisions about suspensions and suchlike in it, which might have been a deal-breaker for Bell. None of this changes what I wrote previously…

Wayyy too early this morning (I’m writing this on Tuesday) my husband asked me a most unusual question. He came back upstairs from breakfast, where he had read the newspaper as usual, and said “So explain to me what the fuss is over Le’Veon Bell.”

The ususual part of the question is that he would even ask, as long-time readers know he’s not a sports fan. At any rate, I explained the situation, and as I did I started realizing just how well this works out for the Steelers, at least in theory, and conversely what poor judgment it would seem Bell and his agent exercised. Let me explain, and please feel free to disagree!

I began by explaining to my husband just what the franchise tag meant, and how he was going to get $12.1 million dollars (hold pinkie next to mouth like Mike Myers) to play under the franchise tag. Needless to say, my husband thought that sounded pretty good. So then I had to go into the disadvantages for the player, and the few things they could do (not sign at all and sit out the year, which would be beyond stupid,) sign it now and show up to Latrobe, or wait to sign it until the last possible moment and consequently miss part or all of training camp (which would be the smart thing to do from Bell’s standpoint.)

As I told him all this I realized how well this has worked out for the Steelers. I don’t believe it was their first choice—Art II was very clear about intending to sign Bell to a long-term contract, and there’s no reason to think he was prevaricating. And while I’m sure the team’s offer was not what Bell wanted—because he would have taken it if it was—I suspect it was a fair offer. Or at least it would seem that way to most of us.

Which makes me think that Bell has a somewhat unrealistic idea of his value under the circumstances. Note that I said “under the circumstances.” What sort of stupid amount of money some team with a lot of salary cap to spend (like, say, the Browns) might pay is not the question. Like it or not, the Steelers front office is working with the CBA the players agreed to, back in 2011. [It’s worth noting at this point that the Steelers players were the only team not to vote to approve it.]

And that CBA allows the Steelers to slap the franchise tag on Bell. In their case, they did so in the hopes of working out a long-term deal, but a deal wasn’t done, and Bell now has to play out this year with no guarantees of anything after the end of the season.

And, in fact, he isn’t actually guaranteed anything until he signs it, because although it is very seldom done, the team can withdraw the tag at any time until the player actually does sign. The player would then become a free agent, but in a market in which the big money has already been long ago spent.

Are there things which would cause the Steelers to contemplate pulling the tag? One would think it would take a rather drastic situation. Let’s say Bell pulled his groin again playing basketball, or fell off a stage whilst rapping and broke something, and the medical prognosis, as far as the Steelers could figure out, (since I’m guessing Bell wouldn’t be inclined to share it with them if it wasn’t favorable) was that the best case scenario was that he could play the last few games of the season. Would they be tempted?

Or what if he failed another drug test? Part of the negotiations with the league last August were that he would remain at the same point in the NFL protocol, so the next incident would still be a four-game suspension, rather than a 10-game one, which is what it would be in Stage 3. Still, if I were the Steelers I wouldn’t be very thrilled about this, and it might give me pause.

And there, in a nutshell, is why I think Bell has an overblown idea of his value. Because there is no getting around the fact that he has been injured every season of his NFL career in addition to missing four games (three in 2016, one in 2015) for failed or missed drug tests.

2014 was the best season for him, and he started all 16 games, but sustained a knee strain in the final game and had to miss the Wild Card game against the Ravens, which the Steelers lost. In 2013 he strained his foot, and fortunately it wasn’t a Lisfranc, but he was still out for the first three games. In 2015 he was Burficted and tore an MCL, and last season it was the groin strain which caused him to miss essentially all of the AFC Championship game and required surgery in the off-season. So if I’m a potential NFL suitor, I’m going to assume that he will miss some time due to injury. There is also the element of risk associated with his two drug suspensions.

There is no doubt that Bell is an extraordinary talent. He can take over a game (although as we discovered last season, there has to be at least a credible threat of a pass.) This is very attractive, and it would be surprising if he didn’t get a lot of offers. They might not be as good as he thinks, though.

Whatever they would be, though, it’s moot. Like it or not, (and I suspect he doesn’t like it,) he’s going to play under the franchise tag this season. And this leads one to wonder just how much risk he is going to be willing to take.

Let me state up front that, from Bell’s standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for him to show up for most of the preseason. As far as I can determine, the money is guaranteed, but sitting on the couch for the year because of an injury in a meaningless drill or preseason game is only taking him out of the public eye and reducing his chances of a nice deal, should the Steelers not choose to apply the tag again next year.

And frankly, even from the Steelers’ standpoint, I can’t see that training camp is going to be particularly valuable. He knows the schemes, and the running offense is built around him and his style of running. As long as he keeps himself in shape, it surely isn’t a huge deal.

And the last sentence contains the only out for a team to guarantee the money, because if the player fails” to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition,” the contract can be terminated by the team.

But let’s assume Bell shows up and signs the tag after the preseason games are over. Ben will, as usual, look concerned and talk about how it would be good to have Bell in camp. In the meantime, the various backs on the roster are getting a ton of valuable reps, some of which Bell would have taken. That has to be a good thing, especially given the fact that we have to assume one or more of them will be starting for Bell when he is out with an injury. Hopefully just a small one. And if the guy who wins that job is James Conner, he needs all the experience he can get.

Because I’m guessing he isn’t going to get much when Bell is dressed. Bell doesn’t like to come off the field (although I suppose he might view it a bit differently if he’s looking at his long-term health), and as a coach I wouldn’t want to take him off either.

So Bell and his agent have managed to put him into a position where he has left himself without options in the event of some catastrophic injury. In other words, the Steelers are only stuck with his $12.1 million. Bell is, no doubt, betting on himself, but it’s a pretty high-risk bet.

Undoubtedly part of the issue was that Bell wanted more years and guaranteed money than the Steelers were willing to give. The question is whether the years and guaranteed money he wanted were reasonable. Or really, the word I want is “realistic.” It is certainly reasonable for him to get all the guaranteed money and years he possibly can, from his standpoint. But, given the provisions of the CBA, he’s only got so much leverage, and he pretty much ran out of it Monday afternoon.

I hope Bell comes in with a point to prove, has a fantastic season, helps the Steelers win the Super Bowl, and gets a nice contract from the Steelers, or from some other team. I don’t begrudge him a thing. I’m just puzzled by him, I guess. He’s clearly very intelligent, but sometimes he doesn’t seem very smart.

4 comments

  • I think the salary amount he is looking for is playing a big part in this as well. Bell is trying to reset the market for running backs and while in my opinion he deserves to be the highest paid back, I think he is trying to raise the bar too high and the Steelers balked.

    Like

    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      I agree with this to a large degree. I also wonder just how ambivalent he is about playing football.

      Like

  • A lot of the speculation I’m hearing, and I think it’s just speculation, is that only the first year of the contract was guaranteed, so it amounted from Bell’s perspective to basically just playing under the franchise tag, and then not being able to get a more lucrative offer for another 4 years.

    Liked by 1 person

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