Bell, Steelers should be strong enough to let you go, and wise enough to wait for what they deserve. The hardest part about a breakup is the realization that you aren’t their “Person” anymore, can someone say, Khalil Mack.
When it comes to the contract dispute between a certain disgruntled professional running back, and the professional football team he plays for in the Steel City, the bottom line is this: Le’Veon Bell is in no hurry to return to the lineup of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Steelers are in no hurry to acquiesce to Bell’s demands in order to get him back into their lineup.
So given that, what does the future look like for both parties?
As the saying goes: the NFL is a business, so it’s about the cold-hard “dollars and cents.” Bell is looking for a contract with an annual average value in the neighborhood of $17 million, which would make him the highest-paid player at the position by a substantial margin; by comparison, Todd Gurley – who just signed a megadeal of his own – is making just under $14.4 million per year on average.
Conversely, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to debate whether it’s worth devoting more than 10% of their salary cap to one player, especially one who’s on the wrong side of 25 years old already, and has only played in all 16 games once in his five-year NFL career.
Pittsburgh has shown that they’re not bluffing when they say they have plenty of confidence in backup running back James Conner filling in for Bell. In the Steelers’ Week 1 tie against the Cleveland Browns, Conner had 36 touches in his first career start, which included 31 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns rushing, and another five catches for 57 yards. One of the biggest points of appeal for Bell was the fact that he was himself a “dual-threat” player (running and receiving), given that he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage last year. If Conner continues to play at this level, the Steelers’ brass will be able to sleep much better at night even without Bell in the lineup.
That makes Bell’s position much more interesting. In order to accrue his tenure as an NFL player, he has to report to his team by no later than Week 10 of the NFL season. But while many speculated that he would return to the Steelers’ lineup as soon as the regular season started – and not forfeit any of this game checks that are worth more than $800,000 per game – he has clearly shown no urgency in playing or getting those checks.
If Bell and the Steelers progress through the season without coming to an agreement, it will just make the inevitable separation that much more real. But would it be smart for Bell to gamble on the idea that someone would be willing to pay him a contract with the salary demands he has, given that he’ll be 27 years old this February? It’s possible, though the richest free agent contract for a running back signed over the last two years is only worth $7.5 million per year (Jerrick McKinnon’s contract with the San Francisco 49ers).
Regardless, for the time being, anyone who drafted Le’Veon Bell on their fantasy football team is going to have to treat him like an injured player: you can’t use him right now, and there’s no definitie answer as to when you might be able to use him.