People who go about life in an unconventional manner usually garner criticism for their actions. Your hair can’t be disheveled and unkempt, that speaks to your poor hygiene. Are you still wearing that Phat Farm tee that has been out of style for over a decade? You’re clearly not up on the times. You’re a running back that is holding out for a big payday. Shut up, sign the franchise tag and run until your legs fall off. A good number of us have dealt with the first two scenarios, yet that third situation is the ongoing saga of RB Le’Veon Bell as he holds out from the Steelers.
Bell has rushed for 1,000 or more yards in three separate seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler. His patience approaching holes at the line of scrimmage has become the signature of his aggressive running style. With the evolution of running backs catching the ball coming out of the backfield, Bell is the most reliable back in the passing game, with 20+ receptions in each season he’s played. At 26 years of age, with five seasons in the league behind him, Bell has set himself apart from his peers. It would only make sense that the Steelers would want to hold onto a key member of the offense as they try to get over the hump to win the Super Bowl.
However, the amicable relationship between player and team has broken down with Bell being M.I.A throughout the offseason and missing the first two games of the season. Now persona non grata among the his teammates, the running back finds himself ostracized from the team, the league and the sport. Yet, Bell and his agent feel this is the only course of action to attain the prize they desire. Bell is holding out for a new contract, one that would make him the highest paid running back in NFL history.
Both the Steelers and their All-Pro runner have gone back and forth on the terms of a new deal, with nothing of substance coming from negotiations. Pittsburgh slapped the franchise tag on Bell, a one-year guaranteed deal that would pay him roughly the average of the top five contracts at his position. But Bell wasn’t exactly thrilled with the lack of long-term security that comes with the franchise tag. Miffed about not receiving a lucrative contract extension that he believed he deserved, Bell eventually showed up the first week of the 2017 season. He would go on to rush for 1,291 yards and nine TDs, with 85 receptions for 655 receiving yards and two receiving TDs.
That production was not enough to garner a new deal. Bell’s agent worked hard to negotiate a new deal for his client, yet neither side could agree on a price or length of contract. The franchise tag was once again placed on Bell, the second in as many years. NFL franchises are only allowed to apply the franchise tag twice to any given player before they must be allowed to explore free agency. Any bit of goodwill that was left between the parties was thrown downstream once Bell missed the first game of the season. The frustration with the lack of an agreement has spilled over into the locker room. Many of Bell’s teammates voiced their displeasure with the whole situation.
Pouncey on Bell–"Honestly it's a little selfish. I'm kinda pissed right now. It sucks that he's not here. we'll move on as a team. It doesn't look like he'll be in the game plan at this point. Conner looks great. We'll worry about him in week 2."
— Tim Benz (@TimBenzPGH) September 5, 2018
DeCastro on Bell — "Just sit out the whole year then."
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) September 5, 2018
Steelers teammates not happy with Le’Veon Bell no show, led by vet G Ramon Foster, their player rep:
“What do you do? here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess so we’ll treatit as such. I just hate it came to this. “
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 5, 2018
Whenever the issues of compensation or money come into the picture, a matter of business can sharply turn into a personal matter.
So one has to wonder: Is Le’Veon Bell a martyr, or is he just an entitled athlete behaving like a petulant child?
It’s hard to really peg down a definitive answer. If the former Michigan State RB had signed his franchise tender, he would have made slightly over $14 million for the 2018 season. The market for running backs changed when Rams’ RB Todd Gurley signed a four year extension worth $57.5 million with $21 million guaranteed. To date, 26-year-old Bell has accomplished a bit more than Gurley. You can therefore understand that when Gurley’s deal was signed, Bell felt that he would be the next rusher to cash in with a large guarantee. That has not been the case, mainly because of the position he plays.
Recently, running backs have become expendable commodities of the sport, with teams viewing the good ones as a dime a dozen. You spend a decent draft pick on a young running back out of college, feed him the ball often and then, when his contract comes to an end, you draft someone younger and with less wear and tear. Rinse and repeat. It’s a shameful practice, yet you have to consider that teams are in the business of winning, not making friends and doing right by everyone that comes through the door.
In spite of his young age, Bell’s seen a heavy workload for a majority of his career. He’s rushed for a combined 1,653 times and caught 325 passes both in the regular season and playoffs. Why would the Steelers pay a king’s ransom for a player whose best years may be behind him? Based on his usage through his five years in the league, Bell should be tossed aside and thrown onto the heap of RBs who have given their prime years to an unforgiving game. However, it appears that the 26-year-old still has some tread to burn moving forward.
There have been many deadlines placed on when Bell would return to the Steelers, but the running back has remained mum on the contract dispute and his team’s performance in his absence. If the Steelers cave in, the running back market gets reset, with Bell seeing the Brinks truck come up his driveway and also setting a precedent for veteran running backs looking to cash in on that elusive big contract.
One way or another, Bell will need to show up to the Pittsburgh practice facilities so he can accrue the 2018 season and become a free agent next offseason. Is this all a ploy to save his energy for a late season push to the playoffs? It’s a script that HBO’s Ballers couldn’t even have pitched.
We’ll eventually get our answer to who wins this game of chicken in the weeks to come. As reported by most outlets, Bell has until Week 10 of the NFL regular season to report or will default his contract and once again be subject to playing under the franchise tag. Le’Veon Bell hopes to break convention and is no longer content being enslaved by it. The only catch is that his freedom comes from the same people who hold him under their thumbs. Bell has been able to break the tackles of large men for a living, but breaking free of a system may be a run that not even he can bounce for a big gain.