It is official. For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have franchised Le’Veon Bell. Unable to shop his services, Le’Veon Bell now must sign the Steelers $14.5 million dollar franchse tender or sit the season out.
- The Steelers want Le’Veon Bell to retire as a Steeler, Bell says he wants to retire in Pittsburgh too.
So neither Bell nor the Steelers wanted a second franchise tag. But as The Rolling Stones reminded us long ago, “You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Why Franchising Bell Isn’t What Either Side Wants
Last year the Steelers were flush with salary cap space. They could apply the franchise tag to Le’Veon Bell, while signing Antonio Brown, Stephon Tuitt, Alejandro Villanueva, Joe Haden and trade for Vance McDonald.
Of course, thanks in part those hefty checks cut to Antonio Brown, , Alejandro Villanueva, Stephon Tuitt, Joe Haden and Vance McDonald, plus contracts inked long-ago by Ben Roethlisberger, David DeCastro and Cam Heyward, salary cap space remains sparse for the 2018 Steelers.
- They’ve already re-structured David DeCastro and Stephon Tuitt’s contracts just to prepare for tagging Bell.
So to make simple moves like tendering restricted free agent offers to Chris Boswell and Anthony Chickillo, signing their 2018 Draft class or picking up a low-end free agent or two, they’ll need to restructure more contracts and release veterans.
- A long term deal for Le’Veon Bell would both keep him a Steeler, while providing Pittsburgh with immediate cap relief.
For the average fan, it’s a hard see why Le’Veon finds the franchise tag so distasteful. Last year he cashed a check for 12.12 million dollars. This year, he’ll cash another check for 14.5 million dollars.
- That’s 26.62 million dollars over two years, far more money than anyone reading this will ever see (unless Stanley Druckenmiller is reading this, and if you are, please RT.)
But this is still less than Bell wants and less than the deal that Bell rejected last season, an offer that would have made Bell the NFL’s highest paid running back, and then some. But Bell wants more.
Bell wants to be paid what he’s worth to the team. What does that mean?
Well Le’Veon Bell’s accounted for 29% of the Steelers offense since he arrived. With the NFL salary cap at 177.2 million, Bell would half of 29% would be 25.694. Bell isn’t asking for that. But as Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, Bell wants a contract with an annual floor of 14.5 million.
- The next highest paid running back, Devonta Freeman, averages $8,250,000.
So in other words, Le’Veon Bell wants to be paid 75% more than the next highest paid running back. That’s asking a lot….
Why a Second Franchise Tag for is Perhaps Best for Bell & Steelers
No one wants a second franchise tag, but maybe its what both sides need.
For Bell, the benefits of cashing a 14.5 million dollar check are self-evident. The money is fully guaranteed the moment he puts pen to paper. A second tag will give him a chance to put his money where his mouth has been. Bell balked at signing the Steelers deal because he thought he could get more.
- Given the limited durability of NFL running backs today, that’s a bold proposition.
A second franchise tag virtually guarantees there will be no tag in 2019 and leaves Bell holding all of the cards. If he doesn’t like the Steelers offer, he gets a chance to have someone like Cleveland, who’ll have gobs of salary cap space, offers on the open market.
- For the Steelers the franchise tag does cause a lot of short-term heartache, as detailed above.
- But this could be the case of short-term pain for long-term gain.
The offer the Steelers made to Le’Veon Bell a year ago was more than fair, and by Bell’s own account, they’ve improved upon it. The Steelers love for Le’Veon is understandable, after all in breaking the franchise Regular season and playoff single game rushing records just over a year ago Bell did something that neither John Henry Johnson, Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis ever accomplished.
But if there’s any difference between Art Rooney II and the late Dan Rooney, it’s that Art Rooney seems to be a little more willing to throw caution to the wind when it comes to the salary cap.
- A second franchise tag provides the Steelers with a safety valve against making an unsustainable long-term commitment.
As this site has observed numerous times, since the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell in 2013, Bell has teased that he has the type of talent to revive the concept of the “Franchise Running back.” Bell clearly wants to be paid as a franchise running back. But the dip in Bell’s rushing average in 2017 undercuts Bell’s argument.
- It says here that Le’Veon Bell brings a lot to the field that you can’t replace by plugging in players via some Moneyball methodology.
But it also says here that the law of averages and the weight of statistical evidence on the shelf-life of an NFL running back remains pretty convincing, and Bell has yet to show he can buck the trend.
The Pittsburgh Steelers chances of winning Lombardi Number Seven in 2018 improve tremendously by keeping Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant on the field together.
- A second franchise tag gives the Steelers a “no strings attached” means of accomplishing that, while also giving Bell a 14.5 million dollar check to cash.
That’s not exactly what either side wants, but it perhaps is exactly what each side needs.