Posted on July 18, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Le’Veon Bell is one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. No one will argue that. He is a tremendous threat as a runner and just as dangerous in the passing game as well. He deserves a substantial pay raise for what he’s done and what he has shown he has the promise to do.
Bell does not, however, deserve to make more than what the Steelers are rumored to have offered him.
Full details of the Steelers final offer were not released. But according to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, he turned down a three-year deal valued at $42 million with $30 million to be paid out the first two years. Ian Rappaport agreed with the numbers but said it was a five-year deal.
How much that was guaranteed was not made public, but the Steelers don’t tend to guarantee future years.
That was a fair deal. It would have made Bell the highest paid running back in the NFL by far. A five-year contract is standard, but a three-year one would have been smart for him and the Steelers. The team doesn’t get locked into a long-term deal with a running back that has injury issues. Should he stay healthy and continue to play well, in three years, he’ll have grounds to demand even more money.
But he turned it down—because he wants to feel ‘valued.’
Being the highest paid running back in the NFL wasn’t enough?
“The running back market definitely took a hit, and I can’t be the guy who continues to let it take a hit,” Bell said, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “We do everything: We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn’t where it needs to be. I’m taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable.”
The only way he can open eyes and prove running backs are worth more is through production. To be fair, he does produce a lot and not just in the running game. Outside of his rookie year and the injury shortened 2015 season, he was the team’s second most productive receiver next to Antonio Brown.
In comparison to other running backs, his rushing total ranked third in 2014 and fifth last season even though he missed the first four games. His per game average last year (105.7 yards/game) was second only to Ezekiel Elliot (108.7 yards/game).
His ability to produce is unquestioned, and he deserves to be compensated accordingly, but he is playing a position whose role is shrinking. The NFL has been favoring the pass for years. Even though the Steelers have traditionally been a hard-nosed running team, they’ve been embracing the pass more and more.
Since the Steelers drafted Bell 2013, the percent of the Steelers offense generated in the passing game has averaged over 70 percent. Bell is a good receiver. During his two best years (2014 and 2016) he was among the top two running backs in receiving yards (No. 1 in 2014; No. 2 last year).
When it comes to all-purpose yards, he is also one of the best. In 2014, he ranked second behind DeMarco Murray. Last season he ranked third behind David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot (rankings included wide receivers and return yards).
So—the Steelers were willing to make him the highest paid running back in the NFL even though he has not been the most productive? And he did not feel valued?
He is productive, and he is going to get paid and paid well. But he just doesn’t deserve more than what the Steelers offered. When he tests free agency next season (because the Steelers will not franchise tag him again), he’ll find that out the hard way.