Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t reach an agreement prior to the July 17 deadline due to one simple factor – value.
As “valued” as Le’Veon Bell may be in the Pittsburgh origination, he didn’t seem loved enough to accept a reported five year deal worth over $70 million. So, he heads into the 2017 season with a franchise tag and some serious questions as to how long his time with the Steelers is going to last.
For Bell, the problem wasn’t that he wasn’t getting paid like a top tier running back. Heck, he was about to make more money than any runner in the NFL. The issue was that he wanted to be paid like a top running back and a number two receiver.
In 2016, that’s something he could’ve argued. With Martavis Bryant missing the season and Bell being the team’s second leading receiver, he was definitely worth a running back and starting wideout.
This season will change that, though. With Bryant returning, Eli Rogers emerging last year and the addition of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bell’s value in the passing game is depleted pretty bad. For someone who needed to be covered no matter where he was last year, most teams will focus on the abundance of receivers instead of watching Bell in the slot.
Not that Bell won’t be used in the passing game, but for the most part, Steelers fan can expect his workload to come out of the backfield. If Pittsburgh has an opportunity to keep Bell rested and only use him in the running game, they’ll take full advantage considering his injury history.
Because of this, his argument of being “valued” isn’t very relevant. His production in the passing game won’t be a number two receiver. In fact, it probably won’t be in the top three on the team. So, now he’s nothing more than a top tier running back, which is exactly what Pittsburgh wanted to pay him as.
Some would disagree. Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL and could do it all at any position. But to want money for something you are no longer required to do is not a battle you’ll win in the long run.
The Steelers and everyone who considers themselves a Steelers fan should want Bell long term. Maybe he doesn’t have to retire a Steeler, but for right now, he continues to compete as one of the best running backs the league has seen in a long time.
Pittsburgh should be willing to go the extra mile for Bell next offseason, but not to the mile he’s expecting. His value in the backfield will stay the same, but in the passing game, it’ll decrease. So, negotiations won’t be as difficult when he doesn’t have the argument of being the team’s second leading pass catcher.
It’s hard to say Bell’s value will decrease because of surrounding talent. But with the amount of receivers looking to have an impact this season, it isn’t likely Bell has as good of a year through the air.
Expect things to be different the next time Bell and the Steelers talk contract. He’s still worth $70 million, but after being downgraded in the passing game, he won’t be able to say he’s worth much more than that.