The Pittsburgh Steelers are going through a tough moment by not finding common ground with Le’Veon Bell. Yet in the long term, it’s a blessing.
Le’Veon Bell is a great player. The Pittsburgh Steelers dodged the proverbial bullet by not signing Bell long term. Both things, despite running counter to each other on the surface, are true.
Bell, 26, is arguably the NFL’s best running back. Since coming into the league in 2013, the former Michigan State star has rushed for 5,336 yards and notched 2,660 receiving yards over 62 regular-season games. Averaged out, Bell is reliably good for 129 yards per game, the best figure of any player since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.
Still, there’s reason to believe that Pittsburgh’s failure to sign Bell on Monday prior to the franchise tag deadline is a boon for the team. The Steelers have never been a franchise to overpay a player, and they were reportedly willing to spend major money on Bell. Last year, the first time Bell was tagged, reports had Pittsburgh offering to make him the leagues highest-paid running back of all time. The pact was rebuffed despite guaranteeing Bell $42 million over the first three years.
In essence, Bell wants to shatter previous paychecks for a running back. The Steelers wanted to respect his talents, but stay within reason. The result is a second straight year about to be played on a tag.
The result is also another team having to pay Bell for prior performance while his talents inevitably decline with age.
Pittsburgh won’t be able to replace Bell after this season with a similar player, but it can find a suitable replacement without breaking the bank. The Steelers are currently expected to have approximately $18.2 million in cap space next offseason, giving them the ability to repair a broken defense while supporting Ben Roethlisberger in his twilight years.
Meanwhile, Bell will become the highest-paid running back of all time provided he stays healthy this year. He’ll have a bidding war for his services and go to the highest bidder, just as he should. In a league fraught with horrid injuries and non-guaranteed money, it would be foolish to do anything else.
And for his new team, Bell will be entering his late 20s (he turns 27 in February). History says that production will slow and injuries will pile up. Unless he is the exception to a far-reaching rule, Bell won’t live up to his next contract, something the Steelers now don’t have to worry about.