Steelers, Bell remain gridlocked in contract dispute

Image Courtesy of USA TODAY | Running back Le’Veon Bell carries the ball against the Houston Texans during a 2017 game at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer

Sept. 13, 2018

It’s been about 243 days since Le’Veon Bell last graced us with his incredible talent on the football field.

In the Steelers’ shocking divisional round loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bell had 155 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.

Performances like that are what have made Bell a household name in the NFL. He’s arguably the best running back in the league, and certainly the most versatile.

That is, when he’s on the field. Right now, Bell is still holding out due to a contract dispute with the Steelers.

He supposedly wants at least $15 million a year. The Steelers allegedly offered him a five-year, $70 million contract, but with only $10 million guaranteed.

Suffice to say, Bell turned it down.

With other superstars like Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr., Khalil Mack and Bell’s fellow halfback Todd Gurley recently getting mega contracts this offseason, Bell has garnered more sympathy as a disgruntled player being underpaid.

Pittsburgh management has been criticized for not signing Bell, while the Steelers offensive line received backlash after harshly panning Bell last week for not coming to play.

People forget, however, that while Bell is a supremely gifted player, it has also been just 243 days since his last bit of mischief.

At almost 1 a.m. on the morning of Pittsburgh’s game against Jacksonville back in January, Bell tweeted “I love round 2’s…we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back weeks…”

The tweet was an allusion to the Steelers’ rematch with the Jaguars after a blowout loss earlier in the season, as well as another potential rematch against the New England Patriots the following week.

In other words, Bell was already looking past Jacksonville and focusing on New England.

After the Steelers had been eliminated, both players and coaches from Jacksonville cited Bell’s tweet as a source of motivation.

As embarrassing as it was, this was far from his first off-field issue.

As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Joe Starkey documented in a column recently, Le’Veon Bell has had his fair share of character-related problems.

Off the field, he has been suspended twice for drug-related reasons. In 2014, he was arrested for driving under the influence. In 2016, he was suspended three games after missing a drug test.

Additionally, he has not necessarily been a great teammate.

As Starkey again pointed out, Bell missed the majority of practice the day before the Jacksonville playoff game. He was also absent from multiple practices the week before the 2017 AFC championship game in New England.

Days before this season began, Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, spoke to Sirius-XM NFL Radio, saying that the running back may sit out until Week 10 to preserve his long-term health.

Bell allegedly told his teammates he would be there for the start of the season. However, he never arrived, nor notified his teammates of his plans.

With that context, it’s much easier to understand the frustration of the Pittsburgh offensive line. Perhaps those players should not have spoken about the matter publicly, but the reproach they have been receiving from many has been unfair.

It also makes the Steelers’ decision to not offer Bell his desired contract more understandable. Gurley, whose contract Bell has used as further justification for his argument, has not had the sort of off-field trouble Bell has.

When you add in his injury history and the number of hits he takes as a running back, it makes the Steelers’ decision even more understandable. Bell is a riskier bet then many people would like to acknowledge.

Now, with all that being said, none of this means that Bell’s contract desires should be dismissed.

After five years in the NFL, Bell has experienced plenty of wear and tear. The older he gets, the likelier it is that his overall play declines, or a big hit sidelines him for good.

Bell had 406 touches during the 2017 season, the most by any running back. The next closest player, LeSean McCoy, had 346.

That stat right there is why Bell is seeking the security of a long-term deal. $10 million guaranteed, what the Steelers offered, does not provide such protection.

With all that being considered, Bell makes a valid argument. He’s an elite player and wants to be compensated appropriately before he exits his prime.

Yet, the Steelers also have a strong case. Bell’s past issues and the generally delicate health of running backs make a long-term contract a legitimate risk.

Simply put, this comes down to business. Both parties have conducted their cost-benefit analyses and are not budging from their respective positions. Neither side is at fault.

If anything, the Steelers deserve less criticism. The franchise has caught plenty of flack for this predicament, but they really aren’t in the wrong — only looking out for themselves.

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