I bet Le’Veon Bell wishes he could jump in a time machine and go back a few weeks.
He would have gone back to the negotiating table and glanced at the Pittsburgh Steelers 5-year $70-million dollar offer and signed it immediately. Then he would have given his agent, Adisa P. Bakari, a long, cold stare followed by a wink and a smile while uttering the words “You’re fired.”
While Bell decided to spend two years of his life centering around identity drama, cryptic tweets, and hip-hop recordings, Gurley’s actions were quiet and swift. In the end, Bell was rewarded with his second franchise tag with a guarantee of enraged fans. Gurley got a four-year extension worth almost $60-million dollars with a guarantee of almost $22-million.
Bell was supposed to be the hero of the story, battling for the underappreciated running back. He was to be the disgruntled voice of the most underpaid position in football. He was to be the symbol of righteousness, proving that he would not settle for anything less than what he deserved. His actions would pave the way for the rest of his brethren to reap the rewards of his assiduous struggles. He was going to make a difference. He was going to go down in history as the tenacious and unrelenting player that brought justice to the NFL.
One week later, the 23-year old Gurley nullified Bell’s plan by accepting a deal with the LA Rams.
Now Gurley has the biggest contract for a running back in the NFL, previously held by Devonta Freeman at $8.25-million a year. Now Gurley is getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-million. That’s quite a substantial increase. And that’s good news for all running backs — except Bell.
Poor Le’Veon Bell. All he has left to show for it now is a bittersweet one-year deal worth about $14.5-million to go along with an uncertain future. And unfortunately for Bell, time is starting to run out for his big payday.
RB Shelf-Life and Apex
According to Statista, the average shelf life for an NFL player is 3.3 years. Kickers and punters have the longest careers in the NFL and the running back the shortest, averaging only 2.57 years. Bell is now entering his 6th season; four years under a rookie contract (worth around $4-million), and one year playing under the franchise tag. In total, Bell has made just over $16-million for five years of service.
The peak age for a running back is 24, according to Apex Fantasy Leagues. After that, there is a constant decline up to age 28. After that, the decline becomes severe. The LA Rams were smart to sign the 23-year old Gurley now rather than later as he is about to enter his peak. Bell, on the other hand, turned 26 in February. He is past the pinnacle point for a running back but still has three more seasons left, including this one, as a running back playing in 23 to 28-year peak range.
Bell and his agent should have seriously read up on this. The window for a running back to get a big contract is small, to begin with. This is largely due to rookie contracts trapping players for the first four years. Therefore, a running back realistically gets one shot at acquiring a massive contract in his career. This was the chance Bell refused to take.
Bell has cashed in on two big franchise tags but has yet to sign the contract that will set him up for life. Next year Bell will have to accept anything that is offered him as he will be 27 years old. If he expects to get offered a deal more lucrative than the one Pittsburgh just offered him, he will be in for a big surprise.
Fair Isn’t Equal
This is the cruel nature of the business. Running backs are simply not valued commodities in the NFL like other positions. Overall, Todd Gurley is the league’s richest running back, but for 2018 he will receive slightly less than Bell. Let’s see how Gurley and former running back breadwinner, Devonta Freeman, measure up to other positions in the league, based on their salaries:
|Largest Contract||Player||Salary/YR||Freeman’s Rank||Gurley’s Rank|
|QB||M. Ryan||$30 M||24th||23rd|
|WR||A. Brown||$17 M||23rd||9th|
|RB||L. Bell||$14.5 M||3rd||2nd|
|Tight End||J. Graham||$10 M||7th||1st|
|O-Line||N. Solder||$15.5 M||43rd||13th|
|D-Line||E. Ansah & D.Lawrence||$17.1 M||35th||13th|
|D-Backs||J. Norman||$15 M||33rd||2nd|
It is clear and understandable that teams value quarterbacks the most and kickers the least. Gurley’s contract provides a new milestone for future running backs. It might not make it the best-paid position in football but his new extension certainly elevates the level of respectability and fairness that had been lacking.
Gurley took a whiff of Bell’s predicament and then decided to take what he could get. Although Bell might look at Gurley’s signing as settling, Gurley has in fact done more for future running backs than Bell has.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
For sticking to his principles, Bell remains the highest paid running back for this year at least. That’s quite a huge sacrifice considering he needs to have the best season of his career in order to get an offer to like the one he turned down. Good luck with that, Le’Veon.
Not only has Bell blown his chance to receive the biggest running back contract ever, his process failed. As a result, this has left him, the franchise, and most of all, the fans, disappointed and angry. He didn’t get paid and now he’s paying for it.
Most people aren’t sympathetic towards Bell. Many want him out sooner rather than later. Steelers Wire conducted a poll asking fans whether or not they want Bell’s franchise tag pulled if he decided to be a no-show for training camp. More than 3,000 people voted with an overwhelming 81.7% in favor of parting ways with Bell. And the word on the street is Bell will skip training camp. Watch the drama turn ugly. No matter how well Bell performs this season, he will most certainly leave Pittsburgh next year and will never be welcomed back.
After 2018, Bell will be without a contract and without a team. There is a still a slim chance that a team will sign Bell for big money. But if he is expecting a Gurley payday or anything like he was offered by Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell better think again. That’s just the nurture of the game. In the end, Bell vilified himself and Todd Gurley became the real hero.
Real-life Impact on Fantasy
Many are assuming that Pittsburgh will get as much as they can out of Bell before he departs at the end of the 2018 season. This excites fantasy owners. However, I am more skeptical.
The Steelers have two promising young running backs waiting in the wings. Both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels physically resemble Bell. Both were productive at their respective colleges. Both can run and catch. Samuels, in particular, is the most compelling out of the two since he was both a tight end and running back at NC State.
Bell has been a fantasy monster because of volume rather than efficiency. If Pittsburgh is forward-thinking, they will want to see what they have in Conner and Samuels before jumping in the 2019 rookie running back pool. If that is the case, look for Bell’s volume to decrease. And if that happens, even if it is only marginal, look for his draft stock to fall to the bottom of the big four running backs in redraft leagues.
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