While some of those who gnashed teeth and/or clutched pearls regarding the decision of running back Le'Veon Bell to sit out a full season do a bizarre victory lap on social media regarding the annual average of Bell’s new contract with the Jets, there’s an important factor regarding the contract that needs to be considered.
How much fully-guaranteed money will he receive at signing?
The initial reporting predictably glosses over that fact (after all, reporters who insist on trafficking in the truth often don’t get the scoops), describing the deal as carrying $35 million in guaranteed money, without specifying how much of that amount is fully guaranteed. Soon, we’ll know (and we’ll share) the full facts on how much truly and fully guaranteed money the contract carries in 2019, 2020, etc.
That’s ultimately what Bell was fighting for. The Steelers notoriously refuse to fully guarantee money beyond the first year of a contract. The Jets have a history of fully guaranteeing money into year two and, in some cases, beyond. (When he returned to the team after Super Bowl XLIX, Darrelle Revis had fully-guaranteed salaries in the first year and second year, with $6 million fully guaranteed in the third year.)
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette characterizes Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell as carrying $33 million in guaranteed money “over the first two years.” But he doesn’t specify how much of that money was fully guaranteed at signing. Bouchette also says that Bell would have received $45 million over three years; without guarantees, however, it would have been foolish to conclude that the full $45 million would have been paid to Bell. A significant injury or noticeable slippage in Bell’s performance would have gotten him cut before the checks would have been cashed.
Without a long-term deal from the Steelers structured in a way that Bell regarded as fair and appropriate, Bell chose not to accept $14.54 million last year from the Steelers and not to assume the risk of an injury that would have kept him from getting a multi-year deal with a multi-generational fully guaranteed payment. While Bell didn’t get the $14.54 million, he still got the multi-year deal — and once the specifics become available it will be easier to completely assess the value of the two in the bush that Bell secured after giving up the bird in the hand.
That’s the point that so many supposedly informed observers are missing. Bell didn’t give up $14.54 million to get what he would have gotten last year. First, he ultimately may have gotten (by way of fully-guaranteed money) much more this year on a long-term deal that what he would have gotten last year. Second, there’s no way of knowing whether taking the $14.54 million last year ever would have kept him from getting a big-money, long-term deal; with a torn ACL or a broken leg or a ruptured Achilles, he wouldn’t have gotten whatever he’s getting from the Jets.
But that won’t stop those who want to rub Bell’s face in it from ignoring the broader context, no matter how obvious and petty the motivations for celebrating a football player’s failure to get as much money as he hoped to get may be.