Week 1 of the NFL regular season is in the books, but Le’Veon Bell has yet to step foot on a field. The three-time Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers has had contract disputes before, but not like this. This is the second year in a row that Bell has held out.
The reason Bell has held out has been due to his contract negotiations. Last season after his rookie deal expired, Bell played under the franchise tag. That tag is essentially a one-year contract that pays no less than the average of the top five contracts at a given position. In Bell’s case, that equates to $14.5 million for this year.
Instead of playing a second year under the tag, Bell wants some long-term guarantee from the Steelers. If Pittsburgh continues to sign him to the franchise tag, then a long-term deal isn’t needed. Bell has no job security in the event of an injury since the Steelers have no intention of re-signing him this offseason.
Bell has been a true workhorse for the Steelers, and nothing is stopping them from giving him 400-plus touches this year. He feels he should be compensated at his rate with the numbers that he has produced.
The Steelers won’t include Bell in their future plans for one likely reason. Bell is already the highest paid running back in the NFL, with a $14.5 million dollar salary. Bell wants to be the highest paid back in the league, but over a period of time.
Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Rams in July to become the second highest paid back. But the sticking point for Bell — Gurley has $45 million guaranteed in his contract. The reason why he rejected Pittsburgh’s offer this summer was he felt that the guaranteed figure was too low.
The Steelers franchise might think that paying him that much extra money is unnecessary. Yes, Bell is easily a top-five player at his position, but teams don’t break the bank for running backs. Even the best running backs seem to run out of gas at around age 30; Bell is 26 currently.
Running backs have come out of college on fire over the past few seasons. In each of the last two years, rookies have led the league in rushing.
Bell failed to report to the team before the opening game against the Cleveland Browns. As a result, he forfeits a game check worth $853,000, per ESPN.
As reported by RotoWire, the Steelers are already prepared to start James Conner in his place.
The question still remains of when Bell will report. He will need to be signed by Week 10 in order to have it count as a season on his contract. The Steelers also have a bye week in Week 7, which would allow Bell an extra week of practice upon returning.
But how his teammates will take to him coming back is still up in the air. Last week, some players went out in the media and expressed their disappointment in Bell. A fractured locker room is the last thing a football team needs, especially this early in the season.
At this point though, it seems like Bell will play, but when remains the question.
Bell’s holdout is the most controversial holdout left unresolved this season. According to SBNation, defensive end Khalil Mack was traded from the Raiders to the Chicago Bears and signed to a record-setting six-year, $141 million contract extension earlier this week.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s holdout ended last week, where he signed a similar six-year, $135 million contract extension with the St. Louis Rams.
In a similar situation, running back David Johnson couldn’t agree to terms with the Arizona Cardinals on a contract extension in the summer. Johnson waited to the last second before agreeing to a three-year, $39 million contract on Saturday.