The deadline for NFL teams to franchise tag players has passed. For the second straight year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers have failed to reach a contract agreement with their star running back Le’Veon Bell, meaning it could very well be his last season in a Steeler black and yellow uniform.
According to NFL rules, players have up until this deadline to negotiate and agree to a multi-year deal. Because Bell and the Steelers did not agree to a contract, he will play under a one-year deal, making only $14.5 million.
According to Bell’s agent, Adisa Barkari, this will most likely be the running back’s last season as a Steeler.
“His intention was to retire as a Steeler,” Bakari stated. “But now that there’s no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler.”
Bell has had a stellar career with the Steelers, making him one of the best running backs in all of football. In five seasons in Pittsburgh, he has 1229 attempts for 5336 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, the highest rush per carry since the AFL/NFL merger. Last season, despite missing the preseason due to contract negotiations, the tailback had 321 attempts for 1291 rushing yards, averaging four yards per carry. At 6’1, 225 pounds, Bell has proven to be an effective route runner, who can block during passing plays and also catch balls for sizable gains. In three of his five seasons with the Steelers, Le’Veon has tallied 75 receptions and totaled 2660 yards over his career.
But all this time, Bell has been playing as a Steeler earning an average salary of slightly more than $5 million. That’s less than Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has earned $18 million over two seasons in the NFL, or Los Angeles Rams Todd Gurley, who will be making a total of $24 million over four seasons.
Bell being drafted in later rounds definitely has influenced his earning potential. But if he does go into free agency, teams will be looking to make a splash on the franchise running back. The Indianapolis Colts ($51 million in cap space), New York Jets ($22 million in cap space), and Buffalo Bills ($15.9 million in cap space) are franchises that need a solid running and receiving back, so look for these teams to be in the mix if Bell decides to join another team the upcoming offseason.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bell “could be willing to sit out the first half of 2018 if he doesn’t get a long term deal done,because the goal at that point would be to hit 2019 free agency healthy, not rack up another 400 touches.”
The Steelers were prepared to offer Bell a contract in the region of $13 million and higher per year. But clearly the money offered was not what Bell desired, demonstrating the painful reality many sports franchises and players experience during contract negotiations.
Bell took to Twitter to give a heartfelt message to Steelers fans, stating that “the NFL is a tough business at times” and that “2018 will be my best season to date.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a consistent threat to win the AFC, a large part due to their dominant offence, which was first in total offence (545 YPG) and ninth in rushing offence (89 YPG). The identity of this team that is dictated on utilizing the run to set up the pass will not be
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