Steelers, Le’Veon Bell May be Headed Toward Holdout

In February, the Steelers Le’Veon Bell was hit with the franchise tag. That meant two things. First, Bell, who was paid $1.13 million in 2016 is getting a 1200% pay raise next season. It also meant the Steelers are able to keep their running back, and one of the best offensive players in the NFL, around for another season.

Franchise tags, however, also have negative impacts for both the team and the player. For the Steelers they are stuck with a $12 million cap hit for 2017. As for Bell, he wants a long-term deal. Many pro sports players only get a chance at one big contract. This, as Bell has shown his importance to the Steelers offense, is his chance.

As of right now Bell has not shown up to any of the Steelers off-season activities. He, likely, will try to avoid the field until he is under a new contract.

Why Le’Veon Bell Wants to Sign an Extension

Le’Veon Bell wants to get locked into a long-term deal with lots of guaranteed money. Who wouldn’t want that? Also, you have to factor in Bell’s injury history so far during his NFL career. Another knee injury or other major injury in 2017 could have a massive impact on a contract for Bell next off-season.

Of course, that is the worst case scenario, but when it comes down to millions of dollars you have to look at the worst case scenarios. Bell wants to be locked in before stepping back on the field and it is hard to blame him.

Fans often get angry with players who are holding out. I can remember when Mike Wallace was in the middle of his holdout and Steelers fans wanted to run him out of town, but put yourself in that situation. I would want my money also and wouldn’t want to risk losing the amount of money that Bell could risk losing by joining the Steelers for minicamp and training camp.

Why the Steelers Want an Extension Done

When the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell he was supposed to be the new franchise running back. I don’t think anyone really expected him to become the kind of weapon he has become. At this point in his career Bell is one of the top players not only on the Steelers, but in the NFL.

Therefore, the Steelers would be dumb not to want to sign him to an extension. When you can lock-up a duo of offensive threats like Bell and Antonio Brown, and do so for the next four years, you kind of have to do it.

Another reason for the Steelers to get this deal done is to spread out Bell’s cap hits over the course of a contract. As things stand currently Bell will be the highest paid running back in 2017 by a margin of $4 million.

Why the Steelers May be Hesitant

Running backs are not as highly valued as they used to be. In fact, running backs are being drafted lower on average in the NFL Draft and are not making as much money in free agency. One of the reasons for this change is the move to more passing in NFL offenses. Another reason is that running backs don’t last as long as players at other positions.

There is a lot of wear and tear on NFL running backs. That leads to teams moving on from running backs, for the most part, around their 30th birthday. A positive to this situation is that Bell just turned 25. So, a four or five year deal would still allow the Steelers to avoid the dreaded highly-paid thirty-year-old running back.

Why Le’Veon Bell Could be Hesitant

The Steelers do not overpay. And they will try not to overpay Bell with a new deal. Another team, however, may be willing to overpay for Bell if he were to hit free agency. One drawback is that the Steelers could choose to franchise tag Bell again next off-season.

That, however, would require a 120% pay increase. A pay increase of 120% would bring Bell’s contract to $14.4 million. The Steelers are unlikely to go to that number, but they could use a second franchise tag to give them another chance to sing Bell to a long-term deal and that would put Bell in the position of playing out another year and risking injury.

Since a second franchise tag is unlikely that would mean Bell would hit free agency. In that scenario, there are plenty of teams with a lot of salary cap room that may be willing to sign Bell to a large deal. Any team would be excited to have Bell. He is the type of player that could excite a fan-base and ignite a franchise.

Expected Outcome

The Steelers do not negotiate during the season. That gives Bell and the Steelers about two months to get a deal done. Another reason to expect a deal to get done is the Steelers cap situation. They have $12 million to work with as Bell’s current contract on the franchise tag. They also have another $16 million of cap space to add to the scenario.

That gives them all the money they need to get a deal done. The only question now is whether the two sides can agree to terms. Bell previously talked about wanting $15 million a year, but those demands seem to be a past issue. The Steelers are probably looking in the range of $8 million, that is the same as LeSean McCoy, the second-highest paid running back currently behind Bell. If the sides have a difference of $4-7 million that could cause some major issues in negotiations.

I do expect some issues in these negotiations, but I also expect it to get done. It would surprise me if the Steelers and Bell were in a long hold-out situation this off-season. Instead, I think a four or five year deal will be signed sometime in July to keep Bell from spending too much time away from the team.

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