Talk about stubborn.
Pittsburgh Steelers 3x Pro-Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after refusing to sign a franchise tender worth $14.5 million that would have made him the highest paid running back in NFL history.
Of course, that’s the problem – Bell doesn’t consider himself ‘just a running back,’ and for good reason.
The man can catch the ball, too, and in Bell’s estimation, that should be worth a whole lot more.
That’s the multi-million dollar question that the Steelers, several needy NFL teams and odds makers have been asking since November.
That’s when Bell’s 2018 season officially became history after he missed the franchise tender deadline.
Here we take a look at Bell’s curious NFL situation and list the current odds on which team will sign Bell in 2019.
Bell turned 27-years-old on Monday, February 18 and the 6-foot-1, 225-pound running back from Columbus, OH let his fans know on Instagram that he is grateful for their love.
Will Bell be franchise tagged again?
At this point, a franchise tag would cost the Steelers the amount for either a quarterback or 144 percent of Bell’s prior year’s salary.
Since this year, the franchise tag number for a quarterback is between $25 million and $26 million, and 144 percent of the $14.544 million that Bell was supposed to make in 2018 is almost $21 million, it is highly unlikely that Pittsburgh will be willing to pay that much for one season.
The deadline for a transition tag is Tuesday, February 19, so the Steelers are running out of time if that’s their plan.
A transition tag would be equal to the $14.544 million Bell was set to earn last season, and it would give the Steelers the right to match an offer made by another franchise.
The free-agency market for Bell looks to be busy, so the Steelers couldn’t use a transition tag to undercut their own offer, but they might want to use one to block Bell from signing with any team they see as a threat in the AFC.
Short answer is yes.
Bell’s numbers over five seasons are incredible, especially when you consider that 2014 was the only year he actually played in all sixteen games, averaging just over 12 games per season.
Bell’s career running totals – 1,229 rushes for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt.
Bell’s career receiving totals – 312 receptions for 2,660 yards and 7 touchdowns, averaging 8.5 yards per reception.
With Bell in the backfield, defenses have to account for a power runner who is an extra receiver which allows the other offensive playmakers more freedom to get open, something receiver Antonio Brown discovered in Bell’s absence.
It’s complicated, of course, but it’s mostly about the money.
In 2017, the Steelers wanted to pay Bell top dollar for a running back, but Bell sees himself as more of a dual threat whose ability to both run and catch the ball should be considered more valuable than a back who simply runs.
Pittsburgh’s front office disagreed and placed the franchise tag on Bell in February of 2017, so he sat out the 2017 preseason to make it know that he wasn’t happy about that at all.
Feeling pushed into a corner after being franchise tagged again in March of 2018, Bell made good on his threat to sit out the season and here we are.
Most experts believe that ship sailed long ago.
Not only would it be unlikely that the Steelers would meet Bell’s financial demands, it would also be extremely difficult for Bell to suddenly plop back into the Steelers locker room after missing an entire season of football.
The damage to team chemistry has been done and plenty of words have already been said, so to add more drama to a franchise that’s got plenty without Bell doesn’t seem likely.
A few reasons, but again, it’s mostly about the money.
All last season up until the November 13 franchise tag-signing deadline, the Steelers were holding hope that Bell would eventually sign and help the team win.
By the time that possibility closed up, another team would have had to gamble on trading for Bell just to have him play the remaining half a dozen games for them until he became a free agent at the end of 2018, not a desirable trade for anyone, apparently.
Put it this way – Bell wants to be the highest paid running back in the league, so that means his new contract would have to be bigger than Todd Gurley’s.
Gurley, the Los Angeles Rams First-team All-Pro running back just scored a four-year, $57.5 million deal with $45 million guaranteed.
To make that happen, a team would have to have the salary cap space and the need, and there are plenty of teams that have both next season.
These are the current odds:
The Jets are the odds on favorites with the cap space and the money to make a deal happen.
Both of their starting backs were placed on injured reserve during the season, Isaiah Crowell (toe) in Week 15 and his backup Bilal Powell (neck) in Week 8.
Bell out of the backfield would be better than either one and would keep second-year quarterback Sam Darnold from having to force so many throws.
Raiders have had a big need at running back ever since veteran running back Marshawn Lynch (groin) was placed on injured reserve in Week 8.
It’s a rebuilding team, so some experts doubt whether an investment in a player like Bell would immediately pay off.
But with Lynch near retirement and head coach Jon Gruden needing some wins to justify his $100 million paycheck, Bell could be the answer as the Raiders transition to their new home in Las Vegas.
While stuck in the middle of a quarterback carousal, adding Bell to the Bucs rushing attack would be good news in Tampa Bay.
Starter Peyton Barber almost broke 1,000 yards from scrimmage in sixteen games last season, while Bell has broken 1,200 yards in three of his five seasons.
How quickly Bell could return to that level of productivity after sitting out a full season remains to be seen.
Rumors that the Eagles wanted Bell began last season once their starting back, Jay Ajayi (torn ACL) was lost for the year.
The Steelers wanted too much for Bell and the talks ended, but with Bell as a free agent now a deal could be struck.
The Eagles could use a boost to their running attack which was ranked 28th last season after averaging just 98.1 yards on the ground per game.
After an extremely disappointing 2018 season, the Packers could definitely use a pick-me-up in their backfield like Bell.
Imagine the pressure a back like Bell would take off quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who could use another target in the air, as well.
Starter Aaron Jones went down in Week 16 with a knee injury, so adding Bell would eliminate the need for him to quickly return.
The 49ers are another team that find themselves in need of a back like Bell, especially after being hit with three major backfield injuries last season.
Jerrick McKinnon (ACL), Raheem Mostert (forearm) and Matt Breida (ankle) all suffered season-ending injuries, though Breida’s injury-filled season didn’t end until the middle of Week 17.
Having Bell would take the pressure off quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who should be returning after injuring his ACL in Week 4 last season.
Colts have money, but they also already have a strong, yet youthful, backfield.
Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines led a ground attack that ended up ranked 20th in the league last season.
Imagine a healthy Andrew Luck throwing to Bell off the threat of Mack and Hines out of the backfield, and the combination might get the Colts farther into the postseason than they have been for a long time.
The Ravens lost running back Alex Collins in Week 13 to a knee injury and had to go the rest of the way with undrafted free agent Gus Edwards.
Bell and quarterback Lamar Jackson would be two dual threats in the Baltimore backfield, which would give defenses a fit and the Ravens a chance to make it farther into the postseason than they managed in 2018.
The Ravens have the money, but do they have the need at running back, especially for such an expensive player as Bell?
Bell and quarterback Deshaun Watson in the backfield together would be a total nightmare for any defense.
The odds of it happening don’t look terribly good, but Bell would be an interesting addition to the already productive mix.
Not a lot of need to upgrade the backfield from Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, who along with Watson had a rushing attack ranked eighth in the league last season.
Chances of Bell going to Seattle are slim, mostly because Chris Carson seems to be doing just fine in the Seattle backfield.
Last season, Carson ran for 1,151 yards and 9 touchdowns while catching 20 balls for another 163 yards.
Imagine throwing Bell into that mix, and it’s a good bet that head coach Pete Carroll would know exactly how to turn that into the few extra wins he needs to return to the Super Bowl.
There’s an incredibly slim chance it could happen, but why?
The Steelers already have enough drama in their locker room with disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown calling for a trade and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calling out his teammates.
Adding Bell back into the mix seems like a recipe for chaos, something the Steelers might want to avoid if they want Big Ben to ever see the Super Bowl again.
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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