DALLAS, Texas – After missing the entire first half of the season due to a contract extension hold-out, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is unlikely to report to the team by Tuesday’s deadline, which will make him ineligible to play the rest of this season.
It’s apparent that Le’Veon may have bitten off a bit more than he can chew at this point, as this entire fiasco began in the offseason when Bell decided to not report to training camp for the second season in a row, in an attempt to force the Steelers to offer him an extended contract. Bell was placed under the franchise tag in February of 2017 after turning down a 5-year $72 million offer by the Steelers.
Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Steelers’ offer to Bell included $30 million in the first two years, $42 million over three years and an average annual value of $12 million. Bell was hesitant to sign that deal because he understood his worth.
“We’re not coming to a number we both agree on – they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high,” Bell said. “I’m playing for strictly my value to the team. That’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at,” per ESPN.com
Clearly, Bell figured his long-term extension would take place in the 2018 offseason, otherwise this extended hold-out would’ve taken place last year, beyond training camp. It’s no secret that Bell has been one of the NFL’s best running backs since entering the league in 2013. He’s got 4,045 rushing yards, 2,005 receiving yards and 31 total touchdowns in 47 career games with the Steelers. Just last season, Bell finished with nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns.
With all of that being said, the Pittsburgh Steelers were not wrong in this particular situation.
In most cases, franchises typically try not to over pay at the running back position for several reasons:
- The running back position holds little to no value after the age of 27. As of this week, teams have 132 running backs under contract. Of that group, 95 (72 percent) are 26 and younger.
- Running backs are more likely to retire by the age of 30 due to the enormous amount of physical contact they obtain every season, every week and every game.
- Running backs are a dime a dozen.
As lunatic as it may sound, you can always find you a running back in the draft or free agency. Recent success has shown that some of the highly talented RBs don’t always come in the first or second rounds. The Arizona Cardinals drafted running back David Johnson in the third round (86th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. In his second season as a first-time starter, Johnson finished with 2,116 all-purpose yards and 20 total TDs, granting him his first NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection following the 2016-2017 season. RB Alvin Kamara was selected 67th overall in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. So far, he’s accumulated 2,471 all-purpose yards and 25 total TDs in two seasons.
What this means is—there will always be a running there for a franchise to select that will have major upside simply because of their youth. And the Steelers have found their youth with their third-round pick in James Conner.
Last season, Bell was 40 percent of the Steelers offense. This year with the hold-out, Conner is 33 percent of the Steelers offense in his first official start at 23 years of age. Bell turns 27 in February. Some would even argue that Conner is out performing Bell as he’s on pace to finish with 1,369 rushing yards, 738 receiving yards and 21 TDs. It may sound heartless at this point but as a franchise you are much more obligated to proceed with the younger RB who’s shown that he can give you the same, if not better, level of production at a cheaper price.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 6-2-1 and 1st in the AFC North Division. Their next opponents will be the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) on Sunday Nov. 18. To stay up to date on all things Steelers and more, be sure to subscribe to You Can Argue That Sports and receive notifications of new posts and podcasts by email.