Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has left NFL fans with one of the most head-scratching and confusing situations possibly in league history. While there’s no question that Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell reported that he wants to be paid like both a No. 1 running back and No. 2 wide receiver.
Obviously, it seemed like that was pretty unrealistic, especially since the highest-paid running back in the NFL is now Atlanta Falcons rusher Devonta Freeman, who just signed a five-year, $41.25 million deal. Even that contract is only an average of $8.25 million per season, but places him at the No. 1 spot in terms of most money on average, according to Spotrac.
So, Bell is set to play under the franchise tag in 2017, which will pay him $12.1 million this season, which is also outrageous. Even more outrageous? The fact that Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers offered Bell a deal worth more than $12 million per year on average.
As Bouchette points out, the team thought they had an agreement in place, but Bell actually backed out of the deal shortly before the July 17 deadline.
The running back not only declined a contract extension that would have paid him nearly the same amount as a franchise tag throughout the length of a five-year deal, but he also wants more. Sources also told the Post-Gazette that Bell wants $15 million a year. The simple fact is, Bell is already set to make nearly $4 million more this season than the next-highest paid back and would have made that much consistently over the span of the previously-mentioned contract.
So, what’s next?
Evaluating What Will Happen With Bell
There is some good news for the Steelers. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, Bell said he will be back before the regular season begins, but didn’t specify exactly when.
So, Bell will play under the franchise tag, and then the two sides will likely begin talking again next offseason. If the team opts not to agree to his $15 million a year demand, or if he won’t come down from that number, then they could franchise tag him again. If that were to happen, he’d earn a 20 percent increase up to $14.544 million in 2018.
That’s not really an ideal situation for the team, but neither is paying a running back the $15 million a year average, which would be nearly double what Freeman and LeSean McCoy make, per Spotrac.
Another option? Let Bell hit free agency. There’s very little chance that another team would be willing to pony over $15 million a year to running back, regardless of how talented he is. That’s obviously still a risk, though, as the Steelers could potentially wind up losing him to another team at a price they may have been willing to pay.
While the Steelers lead rusher is unquestionably a superstar, as he racked up 1,268 rushing yards, 616 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season, it’s hard to justify that level of pay for any running back based on current numbers and the current salary cap.
Time will tell, but there’s a very real reason to believe that Bell may have made a huge mistake turning down a deal worth $12 million per year on average over five seasons. That’s not only record-breaking for a running back, but it’s also a higher average per year than all but six NFL wide receivers.