Le'Veon Bell's $14.5 Million Bet
First of all, welcome back to Fast Break Finance. It has been a few months since I launched the site, but I’m happy to be in a situation where I’ll be able to write on a more consistent basis going forward. Now - let’s get straight to today’s topic.
If you play fantasy football or are a follower of the NFL, then you are surely aware of the situation regarding 3x Pro-Bowl Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. For those of you who don’t know, Bell chose not to report at all this season to the team, foregoing $14.5 million in salary. You may be asking yourself right now, who in their right mind would not play football for a season at that price. However, the issue goes much deeper than that. Let’s dive in.
Football players have a very defined timetable to make the maximum amount of money possible. According to Statista, the average career length of an NFL player is only 3.3 years, and for a player who has made a Pro Bowl, like Bell, it is closer to 12 years. Bell entered the league in 2013 and has arguably been the best all-around RB over the past 2 years (alongside Todd Gurley), highlighted by his back-to-back 1200 yard rushing seasons in 2016 and 2017 and utilization in the Pittsburgh passing game.
Bell is no stranger to holdouts. NFL fans will recall that in September of 2017 Bell ended a training camp holdout and signed a $12 million franchise tag deal. For those who don’t know, without going into the unnecessary details, the franchise tag allows a team to bind a player who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent to a 1-year deal. Teams can do this in consecutive years, and the price goes up relative to certain market values. The benefit of this is that a team can get another year out of a star player without having to commit to a long-term deal which in turn includes a large amount of guaranteed money.
In a now very relevant ESPN interview in January of 2018, Bell stated he’d sit out the 2018 season or retire if the Steelers franchise tagged him for a second consecutive season. As we now know, Bell was not bluffing, as he did not report by the November 13th deadline, making him ineligible to play this season. So where does that leave us? Why did Bell do this?
Le’Veon Bell knows he is one of the best running backs in the NFL and understands his worth. While playing under the $14.5 million franchise tag this year would have technically made him the highest paid RB this season, he would essentially be playing with no long-term security. The case-in-point example of what Bell was trying to avoid is what happened to Dez Bryant.
Bryant recently signed with the New Orleans Saints and before playing a single snap tore his achilles, and now his future is in doubt. Bell, a 5-year veteran who has only played 2 seasons fully healthy, chose to forego the risk of injuring himself while playing on a 1-year deal in hopes of signing with the Steelers or elsewhere next season to a long-term contract. Personally, I think this is the smart move.
Now don’t get me wrong, Bell has taken a tremendous amount of heat for this, but this should have no bearing on his ability to A) secure a historic contract this upcoming year and B) perform at a Pro-Bowl level. To translate this into market terminology, Bell’s downside risk by sitting out the 2018 season is relatively minimum. I don’t honestly think any team will hold that against him and choose not to sign a premier running back to their franchise because he was thinking about his future.
We probably won’t know the “winner” (if you will) in all of this until Bell signs his next contract. If it is a monstrous, record-breaking deal, Bell (and his agent) will look like geniuses and could set a precedent of players legitimately threatening to sit out a year. On the other hand, Bell may have to “settle” for a contract slightly below that of Gurley and David Johnson for his tactics. Only time will tell.
From a football standpoint, it is worth noting that the Steelers haven’t missed a beat without Bell, as James Conner has played far beyond anyone’s expectations, rushing for 10 touchdowns through 9 games and is the 3rd best rusher with 771 yards averaging a respectable 4.7 yards per carry.
As a note, the Steelers could choose to franchise tag Bell again next year, although it is highly unlikely given the animosity between the two sides and the fact that the deal would most likely exceed $25 million dollars. Thus, it appears that we’ll be seeing Bell playing for a new team in 2019, with a handsome long-term contract in his back pocket. Once this happens, don’t be surprised to see Le’Veon let loose on the NFL and remind everyone just how dominant he really is.
In the meantime, we can all jam out to Bell aka “Juice’s” 🔥🔥🔥 raps.