Le’Veon Bell is going to get a massive amount of money in the near future. The only question is if Bell will also get the long-term financial security that football players — especially running backs — so desperately need.
Bell, who might just be the most important player on the Steelers’ offense outside of Ben Roethlisberger, is in the final year of his contract. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, the Steelers aren’t going to let Bell get away this offseason.
The two insiders reported Friday morning that the Steelers are expected to hit Bell with the franchise tag. After they do that, the Steelers will reportedly try to work out a long-term deal.
All of that makes complete sense. The Steelers aren’t going to risk letting Bell walk in free agency. He’s too damn good. He’s a mid-level MVP candidate — he was tied for fifth in the latest CBS Sports MVP ballot — and he’d be one of the favorites if not his absence at the beginning of the season.
In 10 games, Bell has racked up 1,616 yards from scrimmage, which means he’s averaging 161.6 yards per game. His season peaked this past weekend, when he totaled 298 yards from scrimmage in a win over the Bills. So, there’s a decent chance he either ended or extended your fantasy season.
At 24, Bell is still young enough to get the sort of long-term contract that eludes most running backs. Though he lost his 2015 season to a torn up knee, that injury hasn’t slowed him down at all during a contract season. Still, working out long-term deals for running backs can be complicated, especially given Bell’s injury and suspension history.
Here’s how CBSSports.com’s Joel Corry (a former agent) broke down the situation at the end of November:
Placing a transition tag on Bell could also be an option. The number should be in the $10.15 million neighborhood. A transition tag would come with some risk because the Steelers would only get a right to match an offer sheet from another team instead of two-first round picks as compensation if they opt not to match. The Steelers have been one of the biggest proponents of the seldom-used transition tag, applying it to offensive tackle Max Starks in 2008 and linebacker Jason Worilds in 2014.
Given the state of the running back market, Bell’s drug suspension and injury history, there’s no guarantee the 24-year-old would attract an offer sheet exceeding the maximum value of the five-year extension that Steven Jackson signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2008, which was approximately $49 million ($9.8 million per year).
As Corry wrote in his article, the projected cost of the franchise tag for a running back is a little less than $12.4 million. Either way, Bell is going to get paid. The question is for how long.