The window closed on the Steelers signing running back Le'Veon Bell to a long-term deal nearly three months ago. Before it closed, the Steelers were prepared to commit paying $47 million over three years to Bell, a league source tells PFT.
And as to the notion that only $10 million would have been fully guaranteed, at a time when the 2018 franchise tender for Bell is $14.54 million, the package included a $10 million roster bonus due not long after signing, making the practical guarantee $20 million. The Steelers would have avoided that payment only by cutting Bell within days after giving him $10 million to sign.
The cash flow beyond the initial $20 million still isn’t known, and neither is the amount that would have been guaranteed for injury only. Still, if Bell shows up for Week Seven and if he gets the full amount of his remaining franchise tender for 2018 (roughly $9 million), he’ll need to get $38 million over the first two years of a contract signed on the open market, in order to get to where he would have been — assuming that the Steelers would have kept him for three full years under the terms of the long-term deal.
The duration and structure of the contract beyond 2020 also would be a factor. If Bell had collected $47 million over the first three years, what would he have gotten in 2021 and 2022, if it were a five-term package? It’s possible the Steelers wanted team-friendly terms in the outer years of the deal.
Regardless, Bell rejected the offer. And his goal continues to be to get to the open market healthy enough to cash in. He’ll need to cash in significantly, in order to get to where he’d been, if he’d accepted the team’s final offer.
Maybe he will. Maybe there’s a team out there that will pay him something more than anyone imagines. We’ll find out the answer come March 2019, assuming he gets his long-awaited chance to see what’s out there.