Le’Veon Bell spent years trying to get the chance to negotiate his worth on the free agency market. When he finally did, it had to have been at least a little disappointing.
A little over a year after Bell said $60 million “ain’t enough to come run with the Jets,” he signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with who else but the New York Jets. His $13.125 million yearly average didn’t set a new standard for running backs on the market — instead it came up short of Todd Gurley’s $14.375 million average.
But most of it all, it’s shy of the $14 million per year contract that Bell could’ve signed to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers in July 2018. The team reportedly offered the running back a five-year, $70 million deal just ahead of the summer deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term deals. Bell declined.
He also opted against signing a franchise tag that would’ve guaranteed him $14.54 million to play in 2019.
So more than one reporter — Pittsburgh writers, in particular — did the ol’ “point and laugh” at Bell.
Has Le’Veon fired his agent yet?— Joe Starkey (@JoeStarkey1) March 13, 2019
Revenge? For what? Offering him more money than what he eventually signed for? Lol.— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) March 13, 2019
Le'Veon Bell had over $15 million per on the table with the Steelers in July. Walked away from $14.54 million after that. Not great decision-making.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2019
The problem is that Bell was right to turn down the Steelers’ offer last summer, and he’s even more right after signing with the Jets.
Guaranteed money is the bottom line — especially for RBs
When the Steelers offered $70 million to Bell in July, it came with a laughably low $10 million guaranteed. Pittsburgh tried to spin it as better than that by calling it a contract with “a rolling guaranteed structure,” but that’s — uh — not what guaranteed means.
The Steelers planned to “guarantee” Bell $33 million over the first two years and $45 million over the first three years. But that’s just a normal NFL contract with hardly any actual guarantees. It also would’ve given Pittsburgh the luxury to move on from his deal whenever the team decided his play didn’t warrant the pay.
It was a funny money contract at its finest, but still managed to accomplish its purpose: Establish a narrative that the Steelers made a real effort to sign Bell, but the running back was simply being unreasonable.
He wasn’t, and what he got from the Jets is much better.
Bell is guaranteed to see $35 million, or two-thirds, of his $52.5 million contract with the Jets. That means he’ll see the majority of his deal with the team — no matter if he’s injured, or if his play suddenly drops off.
In other sports, contracts are fully guaranteed. Bryce Harper will see all of the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in February. It’s much more uncommon in the NFL — Kirk Cousins’ three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal in 2018 was a rare exception — and that means players often don’t get to the end of their contracts.
Back in 2017, 73 #NFL players signed a free agent contract of 3 years or more. Of them:— Spotrac (@spotrac) March 11, 2019
42 are still under contract
31 have been traded or cut
The Steelers tried to lock down Bell on a deal that they probably wouldn’t have fully honored.
“I don’t want sign a long-term deal and everybody says I signed for $70 million but only the first year is guaranteed,” Bell said on NFL Network back in February 2018. “So the first $17 million that you make in that year that’s the only year that’s guaranteed ...”
Bell could’ve played on the franchise tag in 2018 and he still would’ve been in line for free agency in 2019. But there would’ve been no reason for the Steelers not to give Bell as many touches as they possibly could.
He didn’t get the game-changing contract he probably hoped he’d find, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Steelers never offered him a deal worth signing.