Examining hope vs reality with Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation


Recent reports indicate Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers are closer to a deal than last year in negotiations, but how hopeful can fans be of a new extension?

It feels like the same old song and dance. Unless what would surely be deemed a miracle in the summer happens, it appears we are in for round two of the Pittsburgh Steelers and half back Le’Veon Bell squaring off at the negotiation table. With Bell set to become a free agent after the 2018 season, this may be Bell’s last year in Pittsburgh unless the two sides can meet somewhere in the middle.

However, meeting in the middle has precisely been the problem in negotiations. The “middle” for the money Bell seeks is likely around $14 million, and it’s imaginable to think General Manager Kevin Colbert’s is significantly lower than the suggested price of Bell’s services. Both sides have given constant reassurance they would like a long-term extension done, yet is it reasonable to expect a deal to be reached?

Well, yes and no.

The situation with the Steelers and Bell is a complicated one, and thus expectations should be tempered. Bell, since his arrival in the league via the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, has far and away been one of the best players in the league. Traditionally, the running back position has a short shelf life in terms of longevity, and the traditional pay-day reflects that.

The league’s highest paid running back? Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, bringing home an annual salary of $8.25 million, a modest figure compared to the rest of the positional spending across the board. Bell has reportedly asked for an average annual salary of $17 million, more than double the highest salary at his position and the same rate as teammate and fellow superstar Antonio Brown.

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It’s exactly here where couch quarterbacks alike tend to deviate in the conversation in re-signing Bell. There are those who follow the belief that a player should be paid what they’re worth, and quite frankly, one could argue Bell is certainly worth the desired payday given his contributions on both the ground and through the air.  The other school of thought? Running backs are an easy commodity to come by, as recent history (notoriously New England) has shown a feature back is not needed to hold a Lombardi trophy at the end of the season, diluting Bell’s case for a hefty extension to stay in black and gold.

Historically speaking, Pittsburgh does not favor forking truckloads of cash where they don’t see fit. However, the organization has been known to reward players when deserving, most recently Brown and even Ben Roethlisberger’s payday in 2008. Besides the outliers in Brown/Roethlisberger, the Steelers have gone through an assembly line’s worth of players who sought after a paycheck and have made the right decision more times than not.

The Steelers see two problems with Bell: Off the field issues, and health. It’s no secret Le’Veon has seen his fair share of trouble off the field, with multiple suspensions on his record. Combine his drug-related suspensions with severe injuries, and you get one full season of Bell carrying the ball, completed just last season. With Pittsburgh slapping the tag on Bell the past two seasons, it’s evident the team wants him around. However, the front office is reluctant to pay a player with question marks across his resume.

As a Steelers fan, which side should you choose: Hope, or Reality? Le’Veon has been much more positive when talking about negotiations, something that was clearly missing from last year’s dual with the front office. Fans would like to think a player as great as Bell would be made a priority and would not be able to walk out of the facility without a new contract.

Yet it’s been proven time and time again by the team, they are more than content to let a player walk should they not like the terms laid out on the table. The Steelers seem all too content to get Bell’s best years out of him from franchise tags and ship him off to free agency, as this was evident from the 406 touches Le’Veon saw in 2017, 60 more than the next closest player.

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Crystal balls are hard to come by, as nobody outside nor inside the Steelers organization knows if/when Bell departs the steel city. Is a new contract too much to expect? Absolutely not. Le’Veon has made it clear he wants to stay in Pittsburgh. However, he’s also seeking his once chance at a big payday, and the tab might just be too high for the Steelers to pick up.