Recently, scrolling through my Facebook feed and looking for any football related story to feed my unhealthy addiction, I came across a video titled “Steelers fan reacts to Le’veon Bell.” I immediately clicked to watch. I couldn’t wait to hear what this Pittsburgh faithful thought of their All-Pro running back sitting out. I was ready for the hot takes. The fan being interviewed was a middle-aged woman who immediately voiced her displeasure with Bell. She then said something that motivated me to write this article: “If he doesn’t show up who cares? It’s the Steelers we make the talent, we made you who you are. We made you what you’re worth.” As much as butthurt Steelers fans like this one try to convince people they created Le’veon Bell, this is simply untrue. Le’veon Bell made Le’veon Bell. He wants the contract he deserves and is willing to miss games in order to get it; as much hate as he’s received — I can’t blame him for sitting out.
Le’Veon Bell has been one of the best running backs in the NFL since he entered the league in 2013. In the five years since, he has been elected to three Pro Bowls, named to three All-Pro teams, and was the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 YPG while also averaging 50 receiving YPG. Bell has revolutionized the running back position with his patient running style, versatile playbook potential as a receiver, and elite pass-blocking. And if that wasn’t enough, he did it all before turning 27. Pretty impressive.
Bell has played a huge role in the emerging revitalization of the running back position, one that was steadily becoming a “plug-and-play” position before Bell broke onto the scene. Since then, we’ve seen eight running backs taken in the first round, including three in the overall top five. Running backs have also signed historic contracts in the past few years. Earlier in the offseason, Todd Gurley signed a monster four-year 60 million dollar contract extension with 45 million guaranteed — the largest guaranteed contract a running back has ever signed.
Granted, it would be unfair to say that Bell has led the running back renaissance all by himself. Other running backs, such as Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, and Alvin Kamara have shown why dynamic running backs are so important in today’s NFL. However, Bell has been the most consistent of the group, and when he went on Colin Cowherd’s show during last year’s Super Bowl week, he let the world know who the best running back in football was.
“Each and every year it’s me and somebody else. When I first came in it was me and Demarco, then the next year it was me and Zeke, the next year me and David Johnson, but every year I’m always in the conversation…this year it was me and Todd Gurley.” He’s completely right. Bell is always in the conversation: fantasy players nowadays need the first (or maybe second) draft pick for a shot at landing the fantasy juggernaut himself. With all these accomplishments at the young age of 26, you’d think he’d be flexing a Gurley-tier contract extension. Tragically, the Steelers instead decided to copy how the Redskins front office decided to handle Kirk Cousins by franchise tagging him not once, but twice. You never NEVER want to copy the Redskins front office. Is it possible to fire an owner? #firesnyder.
The franchise tag binds a player to a team for one year, and while the contracts are fully guaranteed, it prohibits the player from becoming a free agent. Though it’s common to see star players get tagged, rarely do you see them tagged twice.
Bell has been very vocal with his displeasure. He believes he’s earned either a better long-term contract or the right to explore the open market. For a running back, it is especially important to get your security when you can. The average career of an NFL running back is around only two and a half years and, it’s rare to see a great one still playing over the age of 30. Bell has already played through his rookie contract, putting up historic numbers along the way, even playing through a season on the franchise tag. Bell knows that coming back to the Steelers and the fans who were so quick to forget about him, would only risk potential injury before he could hit the open market.
Bell declined a 5-year 70 million dollar contract from the Steelers this offseason because he believed he was worth more (he is) and would get a better deal on the open market (he would). Hopefully, the Steelers can work out a trade soon so we can see this talent back on the field again, and he can finally get the money he deserves. Until then, Bell is right to keep his seat.