On Thursday we learned that Le’Veon Bell signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, the team I viewed as his most likely landing spot just the other day. There’s a good chance that Bell, 28, will be very successful with the Chiefs, largely because other teams won’t be able to key on him, thanks to the abundance of weapons in Kansas City’s offense. Also, his greatest strength is catching the ball out of the backfield, which he’ll get plenty of opportunities to do in Andy Reid’s offense.
But forcing his way out of New York was a coup for Bell, and not just because of the fact that he’s with the defending Super Bowl champions, who also happen to be the favorites to win Super Bowl LV.
Offset Language Explained
On Tuesday, Albert Breer of SI.com noted that Bell has offsets in his New York Jets contract. As noted by The Athletic’s Offset Language Explained, “Offset language centers on the guaranteed money of a contract but comes into play only if a player is released before the guaranteed money of his contact is paid out.”
That is, if there is no offset language in a player’s contract, he can collect from his old team and his new team. If there is offset language that normally means the player doesn’t collect additional money unless his new contract pays him more than his already-guaranteed (old) money.
With the Jets still owing Bell $6 million in salary for the remainder of the 2020 season (plus a roster bonus, more on all that below), it would seem that Bell’s new team should only have to pay Bell the veteran minimum salary and that the Jets would pay the balance of his guaranteed money.
However, as noted by Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero (reporters for NFL Network), “Bell can claim termination pay … which means the $$$ from his next team is NOT deducted from what the Jets owe.” In other words, Bell will be getting paid coming and going. Or so it seems.
Le’Veon Bell’s Jets Roster Bonus(es)
Moreover, the Jets don’t just owe Bell guaranteed salary. The four-year, $52.5 million contract Bell signed with the Jets in 2019 also includes roster bonuses. The size and payment schedule of each individual bonus payment isn’t clear, but it seems that Bell still has roster bonus money coming his way.
According to Field Yates, NFL Insider for ESPN, Bell has a $1 million roster bonus coming to him “on or within 15 days of October 15th.” In other words, on Thursday he could both find a new team and get paid by his old team. Which is exactly what happened.
Similarly, Michael Ginnitti, Co-Founder/Editor Spotrac, reports that the bonus due on Thursday is actually $2.5 million, the outstanding balance on the $4.5 million in roster bonuses he is/was scheduled to be paid in 2020.
Either way, though, the Jets are taking a bath on the Bell deal, getting just 1,363 total yards and four touchdowns for the $27 million they have spent—or will spend—on the newest member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of course, contracts gone wrong are nothing new for the winless (0-5) Jets. As noted by Jason Fitzgerald, founder of overthecap.com, “about 14% of their cash spent this year is spent on players who have been cut…. The NFL average is 2%.”
Le’Veon Bell Still Playing Catchup Financially
Regardless, Bell has still earned a lot less money than he could have and likely would have had he remained a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who offered him a five-year deal for $70 million before the 2018 season, with $33 million paid out in the first two years.
Instead he held out for the entire 2018 season, during which he would have been paid $14.5 million under the franchise tag.
To date his career earnings total approximately $43.5 million, including the five years he played in Pittsburgh, where he earned more than $16 million.
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