Running back Le’Veon Bell, in search of a $17 million contract, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have reached an impasse in contract negotiations. Should Pittsburgh acquiesce to the back’s demands?
Pay the man
When Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million contract this past July, the NFL world turned on its head. He’s good, and now he’ll be getting paid accordingly. So, why can’t Le’Veon Bell get the same respect?
Typically, running backs don’t earn this kind of money, since their careers tend to be shorter. Furthermore, they have always taken the back seat compared to more prestigious positions, particularly quarterbacks. But, in the age of concussion protocols and rising safety concerns, football is changing. With new rules to protect offensive players and few running backs of Bell’s calibre, there is no better time than now to invest in Bell.
The business side of professional football has always seen the ball carrier as an expendable asset—if one gets hurt or performs poorly, the team can cut its losses and move on to the next one. But there’s a strong case for paying for a great one, since the running back can be the x-factor position for any team.
“Pass-throwers are still the key in a passing league, but runners like Gurley, on teams that don’t have Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, are the players who actually win games,” Mike Freeman wrote for Bleacher Report in response to the Gurley deal.
Le’Veon Bell is a winning player, and his impressive statistics rightfully rank him in the top tier of the league’s running backs. Fans and teams wait forever for the chance to have players of his calibre; the Steelers would be wise to lock Bell into a long-term contract and give him the money he deserves.
An Overrated Athlete
Le’Veon Bell is, undoubtedly, one of the top running backs in the NFL right now. Last season, he was third in rushing yards and scored the fifth most touchdowns among running backs. But, he does not deserve the jaw-dropping $17 million that he is asking for.
Bell’s argument is that, as a lead running back and a number two receiver, he deserves guaranteed pay on par with his Steelers teammate, wide receiver Antonio Brown. However, his 7.7 yards per catch in 2017 show that he is not particularly efficient in the receiving game, while just two receiving touchdowns suggest he couldn’t finish the job through the air either. His statistics simply don’t support his claim of being a number two receiver.
Bell’s rushing numbers do not support an unprecedented contract, either. He ranked third in yards per game and his 4.0 yards per attempt last season were merely average. It’s hard to argue that Bell is the best at his position. Consequently, he does not deserve to be paid as such.
Lastly, Le’Veon Bell’s injury-prone history and off-field issues suggest the Steelers should not guarantee him such a contract—he is not on the field enough to warrant it. In almost every season since his debut, Bell has dealt with serious injuries, including knee and groin problems. Additionally, in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Bell was suspended due to substance abuse issues. Given his history of missing playing time, this is not the running back to invest in.
Ultimately, Bell is not a generational running back, he is no great receiver, and he is prone to missing games due to both injury and suspension. Currently, Bell is paid $14.5 million. He should take that paycheque and walk away happy, because he might not even be worth that much.
He’s not worth it. Bell has been good, but he’s not enough of a difference-maker to deserve the extraordinary contract he’s asking for.