The stalemate between the Pittsburgh Steelers and franchise running back Le’Veon Bell continues with no signs of progress. Bell has yet to sign his one-year franchise tender worth a cool $12.1 million dollars. From the looks of things, the mercurial all-purpose running back seems willing to bet on himself in hopes of securing a fat, long-term deal in free agency next summer.
According to numerous reports, the Steelers are willing to make the 25-year old Bell the richest running back in the league with a deal averaging $10 million per year. Bell wants more in the ballpark of what he’ll make this year, per year. Which side will budge first?
The answer will come by Monday, July 17. That date is the deadline for the Steelers to lock Bell into a long-term contract. If the deal does not get done, the franchise tender goes into effect and both sides would have to do this contract dance again next season. If the Steelers decide to franchise Bell for a second year, it would be at a 20% pay raise so Bell would make over $14 million. If not, he will enter the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Without a signed deal in place, Bell can wait until a few days before the start of the regular season to appear and still get paid in full. What player wouldn’t love the idea of skipping all of training camp knowing they won’t get fined? He has yet to appear at any team function while the contract game of chicken plays out.
From the Steelers standpoint, they have reason to be cautious. Bell has an injury history that can’t be ignored. He has only played a full 16 games only once in his four seasons. Ankle injuries have kept him off the field on numerous occasions. A groin injury occurred at the most inopportune time, in the midst of their playoff run, last season. The now surgically-repaired groin is reportedly back to full strength.
They are also taking note of the pounding he’s already taken. Bell has already logged 908 carries and 227 receptions in his short career. Given the shelf life for an NFL running back is averaging a paltry 3.1 years, could this be the beginning of Bells’ decline? Lest we forget he has had two violations of the NFL Substance Abuse policy, the latest indiscretion cost him the first three games of the 2016-17 season.
From Bells’ standpoint, the numbers don’t lie. Over 1100 touches have accounted for over 4,000 yards rushing and over 2,000 yards receiving and 31 touchdowns. Two-time Pro Bowler. Two-time All-Pro. He is clearly one of the top five running backs in the league and he deserves to be paid as such.
We’ll see who wins this tug-of-war soon enough but whose side are you on? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Greg One