It’s easy (but hardly cheap) to determine the basic parameters of a long-term deal with the franchise tag as the starting point. In Pittsburgh, it may not be easy to structure it that way for running back Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers like to pay out all fully-guaranteed money in the first year, with none of the money guaranteed in year two. For example, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger received his full $31 million guarantee in the form of a signing bonus. Ditto for receiver Antonio Brown, who has no guarantees beyond his $19 million signing bonus.
For Bell, the standard franchise-tag formula calls for his $12.1 million franchise tender for 2017 plus a 20-percent raise for 2018 ($14.52 million) to be fully guaranteed at signing. That’s $26.62 million in full guarantees. Given the way the Steelers do business, that means a signing bonus of at least $25 million.
And that may be more than the Steelers are willing to do for a running back. So then the question becomes whether Bell will accept some other structure (for example, $15 million paid out in 2017 and another $11 million or so in injury-only guarantees for next year) or whether he’ll say, “Screw it. I’ll take $12.1 million this year and either a 20-percent raise or a shot at the market next year.”
Both Kirk Cousins and Trumaine Johnson have demonstrated for all players the value of going year to year. For Bell, a year-to-year game of tag for two years gets him to $26.62 million. The question becomes what alternative amount or structure he’d accept to have a longer-term deal in Pittsburgh.
Since the Steelers don’t want to fully guarantee money beyond year one of any long-term deal, what’s the point of any multi-year contract with the team? If any player should be willing to seriously consider going year-to-year, then, it’s a player in Pittsburgh.