Posted on July 16, 2018, by Travis Pulver
There are some franchises whose fans are happy just when the team makes the playoffs. But then there are some, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who set their sights on the Super Bowl every year. For teams like the Steelers, there is also this thing called ‘the window.’
The window refers to a theoretical timeframe in which the team is considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender. In it a team has the right players under contract and playing at a level good enough to make the team a contender.
The Steelers have had the right guys under contract the last few years. But it appears like they are about to lose one—Le’Veon Bell. Bell and the Steelers couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term contract prior to the franchise tag deadline once again. But this time, with what his agent has said, it doesn’t sound like Pittsburgh is going to get another chance.
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According to Bell’s agent, the Steelers were more interested in paying the position and not the player. That makes it sound like they wanted to pay more like what running backs are currently worth in the NFL. But Bell is not like any other running back.
Ian Rapoport has reported that the Steelers offered him a five-year deal worth $70 million with $30 million coming inside the first two years. That’s an increase of $10 million over what they offered last year.
What the difference was, has not been made public, but now the Steelers will have to wait until after the 2018 season to make him a better offer—if they intend to, that is. They may decide that he costs too much and let him walk.
If they do, he’ll be closing their Super Bowl window on his way out of town.
Many will scoff at the notion or call it stupid. But the fact of the matter is that the Steelers offense has been what it is because of the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Bell. Take away the threat of one and the overall threat of the other two is greatly diminished. While the defense is on the rise, it is not good enough to carry the team to the Super Bowl.
As painful as it may be, fans have to be prepared for the possible end to the Roethlisberger Era if Bell leaves town in 2019. He’s waffled on the idea of retirement in 2016 but then announced he’d return in 2018 shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 season.
He cited his offensive line as being part of the reason why. But at his age (he’s 36), with injuries on his mind already, will he want to continue if the team doesn’t appear to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender?
Having made over $170 million during his career, will concerns over his long term outweigh the desire to make another $23.2 million?
Maybe, but with a little nudging from his wife, it wouldn’t be hard to see him hang it up. That means in 2019 the team will still have Antonio Brown (who isn’t getting any younger). But either Landry Jones or Mason Rudolph at quarterback with James Conner running the ball.
That team will contend in their division. But they are far from a lock to even make the playoffs let alone make the Super Bowl. Conner isn’t bad, but he is definitely nowhere near as dynamic as Bell. Landry Jones hasn’t ever looked like someone who could carry the team. That will leave them with a completely untested Rudolph or a player not currently on the team.
To be fair, he could come in guns blazing like Roethlisberger did and do just fine. Or he could be another career backup like Landry.
But even if Roethlisberger sticks around for another year without Bell, it is going to be tough. They’ll have to rely on Conner to carry the running part of the running back role. If his game can translate to the NFL, Jaylen Samuels could take over the passing game part of the role. Since everyone will focus on stopping Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, maybe the running back tandem will work.
However, it is highly unlikely it works well enough for the Steelers to be a contender.
But there is still hope, Steelers fans. There is no way they hit him with the franchise tag a third time. But they could still come to an agreement next offseason.
It’s unlikely at this point. But it could happen.