I want to see Le’Veon Bell get paid…even if it’s not with the Steelers

“Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun” is just passive aggressive way of saying “Now YOU have to deal with that shit. How does it feel?”.

Contract disputes are common in football but what’s being disputed specifically within the contract always varies. It never bothers me when players in the NFL make a big fuss about their contract or even threaten to hold out because I understand the NFL is not like other leagues. If you’ve ever played football, you understand how much the “team first” mentality is stressed. But by the time you get to the NFL, it damn near propaganda. There is a long history of criticizing NFL athletes and calling them selfish or a distraction if they don’t automatically fall in line with what the franchise wants.

In comes Le’Veon Bell.

Bell is a 3x All-Pro (1st team in 2014 and 2017) and a 3x Pro Bowler. A freak athlete who is a wide receiver playing the role of a workhorse, powerback.

Bell has also missed 19 games due to suspension or injury during his 5 year career as well.

Something that I think everybody can agree on is that Le’Veon Bell is one of the top 1-3 backs in the NFL. But that’s probably where the universal agreement ends.

On March 6th, the Steelers placed an exclusive franchise tag (he can only negotiate with the Steelers) on Bell and once he signs the tender, he’d be making a guaranteed $14.54m for the 2018 season. But much like unlike last year, Bell is really on some “fuck that tag” shit, threatening to sit out or even retire (he’ll decide when the time comes) if franchise tagged.

“Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I’m not going to settle for anything. I know I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at,”
– Le’Veon Bell

And this is where the disconnect becomes. There are two sides to this debate and both sides make valid points.

Quarterbacks have been making a shit ton of money lately, meanwhile their has been an attempt to completely wipe the elite RB off the face of the earth. RBs shouldn’t be drafted high anymore cause instead of 1 elite RB, you could have 2-3 average/above average RBs and win a Super Bowl.

When you look at the contracts that Matt Stanford, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo got (and even the contract that Kirk Cousins is expected to get), what Le’Veon is asking for isn’t really crazy at all.

When it comes to quarterbacks, teams, fans and pundits in the media have this idea that if you don’t overpay for your QB, somebody else will. So you overpay. And that’s how you end up with Matt Stafford and his 7-9 wins guaranteed a year. Overpaying for QBs out of fear is how you make the playoffs once in a 5 year span following a Super Bowl.

Good teams don’t overpay for players. It’s over 50 players on an NFL roster. This ain’t like the NBA where mediocre players can get a $16m a year contract.

The downside to drafting well in the NFL is that you better win while guys are on rookie contracts. The Steelers have several elite players and everybody is getting paid. It’s also fair to point out that the Steelers upped their previous offer from last year for Bell and at one point, it felt like both sides were getting close to a deal. But now? Nope. It’s known the Steelers don’t structure their contracts in a way that offers players any real security behind the first year.

“We’re not coming to a number we both agree on — they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high,” Bell said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “I’m playing for strictly my value to the team, that’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at.”

It’s clear as day that Bell thinks highly of his value and can you blame him? The issue with the franchise tag is that it offers you no long term protection. Your money is guaranteed for that one season. For a RB of Bell’s caliber, guaranteed money is huge. Bell’s career with the Steelers began in 2013 with him sidelined the first 3 weeks of the season because of a foot sprain. The following season, he hyperextended his knee against the Bengals during a Week 17 matchup (thanks Reggie Nelson) that caused him to miss the Wild Card game against the Ravens. He began the 2015 season serving a 2 game suspension for a marijuana arrest from the previous season. He season would officially be over in early November after he tore his MCL following a tackle from Vontaze Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2016 season began with him serving a 3 game suspension for drug policy violation. He would also miss the last 3 quarters of the AFC Championship due to a groin injury.

So on one hand, Bell’s shaky history and availability is one reason why the Steelers shouldn’t break the bank. But on the other hand, Bell’s 86.1 career rushing yards per game average suggest that when he’s available, he shows up.

Bell understands his true value (not market value) and I’m not mad at him for wanting to get his fair compensation. But it is very funny to me to hear people admit the players botched the last CBA negotiations in 2011 and caved into easy, but those same folks will accuse players of being greedy and selfish for holding out or even causing a fuss about the contract situation at all. Somebody is going to have to be the sacrifice, but will it be Bell? There are those in the Steelers facility who think Bell is bluffing about retiring but they do feel he is stubborn enough to sit out a couple games (I’m convinced Bell is allergic to playing a full 16 games for various reasons).

The Steelers fan in me wants to keep Bell and pay him what he deserves, but I also don’t want this team to tie all of its money into 3-5 players. I’m not comfortable with the idea that the Steelers should just let Bell walk and use that money to get defensive players because this front office had a track record and if they didn’t switch up to pay an elite player, we’re expecting them to go into free agency and pay somebody as well? Lately, the Steelers use free agency to sign guys like Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell. They aren’t chasing serious contributors unless they are on a bargain. This team just hasn’t shown me that they are capable of doing the right thing in that area.

Bell basically wants the franchise tag number to be the floor for his yearly salary. No telling what what will happen, but the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have until July 16th to figure it out.

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