At a time when there isn’t as much NFL news to go around, many in the media are hoping to speak intelligently on the travel habits of Pittsburgh Steeler Le’Veon Bell. And even though he hasn’t signed his franchise tender, which makes him no more of an employee of the Steelers than me, many are still wondering whether he’ll attend the team’s mandatory minicamp.
Contrary to assertions made elsewhere, Bell can indeed attend and participate, if he wants. He needs merely to sign a letter of protection, which would guarantee that he’ll receive his full franchise tender of $12.1 million if he suffers a serious injury during the minicamp. But why would he? His leverage toward a long-term deal comes from withholding services.
His window for doing a long-term deal closes on July 15. Inspired by this item from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, let’s consider what it could take to get him under contract.
The math is fairly simple. With $12.1 million in the bank for 2017, Bell can fairly request that plus a 20-percent raise (which would be his franchise tender for 2018), fully guaranteed at signing. That’s $26.6 million covering the first two years of the contract, with some sort of a team-held option for the years beyond that.
Given Bell’s history of injuries and suspensions, the team could be looking for a structure that protects them against further incidents of either type. Per-game roster bonuses guard against time missed due to bumps and bruises; voidable guarantees and/or signing bonuses that can be pursued for reimbursement give the team a way to minimize the impact of a suspension.
For that reason, Bell could be looking for a large roster bonus and/or base salary in 2017, with the goal of pocketing as much cash as possible in the first year — and having none of it subject to future forfeiture.
Regardless of how the deal is put together, what the deal pays will be the key. And with $12.1 million in hand for the coming year, Bell could always choose to bank that cash and do the dance again next year. If the Steelers tag him in 2018, he’ll make $26.6 million over two years with a crack at the open market in 2019. If they don’t tag him for a second time, he’ll hit the market in 2018.
That may make the most sense for Bell. As long as he signs the franchise tender before the Steelers possibly realize that their dramatically cheaper in-house options are good enough to justify saving $12.1 million and rescinding the tag. While that’s still highly unlikely, it remains theoretically possible until Bell inks the tender — which he can wait to do until just a few days before the regular-season opener and still get the full $12.1 million.