Le’Veon Bell has leverage, and he should use it

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Last year, the Steelers and running back Le'Veon Bell couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal before the July 17 deadline for doing so. Now that the 2017 season has ended for the Steelers, the team has shown a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to getting Bell signed over the long haul.

Bell says the two sides already are closer than they were a year ago. This suggests that the Steelers have opted for the Antonio Brown approach, creating an artificial deadline of the start of the league year (or, more likely, the deadline for applying the franchise tag) for finalizing a multi-year contract.

The real question is whether Bell will comply with the latest attempt by the Steelers to impose rules and deadlines above and beyond the terms of the labor deal, pressuring players to operate on the team’s terms. The negotiations likely will entail another Pittsburgh standard operating procedure: The Steelers won’t include any fully-guaranteed money beyond the current year.

Thus, when Bell trades in the $14.52 million that he’d make under the franchise tag for 2018, what will he really get? Given that there’s no way the Steelers would tag him a third time, Bell will be sacrifice a clear shot at the open market in 2019, giving the Steelers essentially year-to-year control over this career. (A large signing bonus would likely ensure two or three years, minimum, given the cap consequences of cutting him.)

Last year, Bell held firm, refusing a long-term deal that he didn’t regard as good enough, exercising his right to boycott all offseason, training camp, and preseason activities, and eventually making $12.1 million for 2017. This year, will he do the same?

By leaking to the media his extreme tardiness for the final walk-through of the season, the Steelers may be trying to soften Bell’s expectations. That’s the same approach they apparently utilized with Brown a year ago.

Maybe the Steelers are telling Bell that they won’t apply the franchise tag. If so, he should call their bluff. If they tag him, he’ll be operating from a position of strength. If they don’t, he’ll be operating from an even greater position of strength, since there will be nothing the team can do to keep him away from the open market, where the highest bidder surely would pay Bell a lot more than the Steelers would.

So what should he want? Unless they won’t tag him, the starting point is $14.52 million for 2018, clearly. Beyond that, it’s whatever Bell decides represents fair value for the sacrifice of a chance to hit the market and cash in — recognizing that someone will surely pay a steep premium for the best running back in the NFL.

If they don’t tag him, his price should be whatever the market bears, possibly with a willingness to take less to stay in Pittsburgh than he could get elsewhere. There’s only one way to find out what that number is: By not applying the tag and letting Bell shop himself during the two-day tampering window. If the Steelers truly hope to strike a fair and appropriate deal with Bell, that’s what they would do.

And if they won’t do it this year, Bell should pounce on $14.52 million for 2018, and then find out in 2019 what someone else would be willing to pay.

Either way, Bell should refuse to do anything until the Steelers have to decide whether to tag him again. He proved last year that he was willing to push back against the team’s habit of dictating terms to its players. Bell shouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

17 responses to “Le’Veon Bell has leverage, and he should use it

  1. I really wish the contracts for all players were 1 year deals, they would have no unfair long term deals to gripe about.
    Ah, but then they may not like true free agency and gripe about no long term financial security.

  2. He’d take the deal offered last year if they just guarantee a lot of it. Offer him 5/65 or 5/70 with 35gtd. He’s worth it, he isn’t just a RB, he can line up at WR and catches the ball better than half the receivers in this league

  3. At 25, this guy probably has 3 good yrs left in the tank. Give him a 4 yr deal & eat the last yr if his wheels fall off. Hopefully, the team will get some cap relief from the Shazier situation. I’ll bet it’s 90/10 that he doesn’t come back, & he is in excess of $8mill in cap hit next yr.

  4. The leverage is only as strong as the team allows it to be. This isn’t about what Bell thinks he is worth. It is about what he thinks the steelers or other teams would be willing to pay. He has impressive skills but he also has a horrible track record as a teammate. What good does it do to guarantee him $14M if he decides he wants to blaze up again and gets a lengthy suspension. Looking at his attitude in many different instances over the last 3 years leads me to believe he isn’t worth the potential risk…at least not at the value he thinks.

  5. the Steelers will never do it but the smart thing to do would be to let Bell walk and invest that salary into building the overall depth of the team. They can get 80% of his production with 20% of the his salary and end up being a better overall team.

  6. I sincerely hope they pay him a lot of money for a long,long time. You can compare him to Brown all you want but he doesn’t have Brown’s drive and work ethic. Pay him and not only will his skills diminish but he’ll be more of a cancer than he already is.

  7. He is certainly a very good RB, but running backs are a dime a dozen in the NFL, and he is not worth THAT much more than a guy, who can get 900 yards for less than $4M/year. Bell had 1291 yards.

    I just looked up the contract of every player with over 900 yards, and that makes you top 13 this year. Not including Bell, only 1 was making $8M/year (McCoy), and everyone else was under $4.7M.

    I just can’t see in what world he is worth that much on the open market, and he was only 3rd in total rushing, and 24th among all qualified rushers in yards/carry, and tied 8-9 in yards/carry among just those 13 top rushers.

    I am sure the rest of the league hopes that the Steelers keep over-paying.

  8. “I really wish the contracts for all players were 1 year deals, they would have no unfair long term deals to gripe about.”

    Right but then those fat, 20-30 million dollars guaranteed at signing go away. They can’t have it both ways. They’ll never get the huge signing bonuses and guarantees of 1 years.

    Plus its not realistic to expect a team to renegotiate every contract every year. That would create a nightmare situation.

  9. Its already proven that the Steelers haven’t won a Super bowl WITH Bell and I’m very sure they could not win one WITHOUT him. As for your posting, there is another option for the Steelers; make their best long term offer, if not accepted then tag him. Then a week or two before the deadline for making a long term deal; cancel the tag and let him walk as a free agent. Of course a lot of the money from other teams will have been spent and it will be difficult to find a team to pay him at the level he expects.

  10. Bell had leverage last year too yet here we are. He’s the best dual threat back in the league but beyond the regular how much cap space do you tie up at that position question there’s his injury and suspension issues to consider. It’s not an everyday RB negotiation. Bell and Pittsburgh are a good fit. They will work it out one way or another even if that ‘other’ involves having to tag him again.

  11. Lifelong Steeler fan. Love Bell, but when Tomlin started him after missing almost entire walk through, and after he was yacking about his contract before Jax game, all I had to see. One ACL tear and team cap structure screwed. You think Bill would pay that for a back that averages 4.0 yds per? You know the answer.

  12. If he hits the open market, he’s former OC up the way is sitting next to a GM with a lot of cash space & a lot to prove on a team that needs a lot of help.

  13. As long as Jacksonville (4-6) and NE (3-9) continue to terrify Little Ben, especially in the playoffs, they can sign anyone they want and it won’t make a difference.

  14. takeyourpunishmentandquitwhininglikeababy says:
    January 25, 2018 at 9:17 am
    As long as Jacksonville (4-6) and NE (3-9) continue to terrify Little Ben ….


    Jacksonville terrified him so much that he threw for almost 470 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT, and a QB rating of 110.

    If you’re going to troll, at least make non-moron comments.

  15. mmmpierogi says:
    January 25, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Jacksonville terrified him so much that he threw for almost 470 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT, and a QB rating of 110.
    Let’s see, 2 chuck and hope Hail Mary’s on 4th down when they were down by multiple scores, and an utterly meaningless TD with 0:00 on the clock down by 10 against a team that that was happy to see you burn the entire clock in order to pad your stats.

    When it mattered, when the game was close, Ben couldn’t get out of his own way.

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