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Pittsburgh’s Bell Playing Under Franchise Tag Again this Season

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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

By Michael Hanich |

As a player’s talent and potential get higher, so does the asking price to acquire them. Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le’Veon Bell was one of the high-velocity players looking to acquire a long-term contract as one of the highest paid players in the league. Bell and the Steelers could not agree to a new deal, therefore he will be playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season. The most recent player to play under two consecutive franchise tags was quarterback Kirk Cousins for the Washington Redskins. Cousins and the Redskins would quickly separate after the end of the 2017-2018 NFL season.

Bell will play under a 1-year franchise tag worth $14.5 million, which is the second largest cap hit for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a larger salary for the 2018-2019 season with $23.2 million. Bell was reportedly seeking to become one of the highest paid offensive players in the league, regardless of position. He did note that he would not get the salary that most NFL quarterbacks get in this generation.

There is no guarantee to what Bell was fully seeking as he was looking to match a similar salary as fellow top elite offensive players. There were reports that he was seeking around $17 million per year but there were other reports that he was considering taking the 5-year deal worth $70 million offered by Pittsburgh. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported that the Steelers did offer $15 million this year, although they are not comfortable paying a running back with a high-figured salary since 2011. This was where Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson received more than $10 million a year in their long-term deals. Last year when Bell and the Steelers were talking about their first attempt at a long-term contract, Pittsburgh offered a multiple year deal where he would receive $13.3 million annually.

In his five NFL seasons, Bell has been beyond outstanding. Bell is a three-time Pro-Bowler (2014, 2016, and 2017) as well as a two-time first-team All-Pro Selection (2014 and 2017) and a one-time second-team All-Pro selection (2016). The Steelers knew he would be a once-in-a-lifetime player with multiple skill sets and attributes that define him an elite running back when they selected him in the 2nd round (48th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. Bell possesses immediate breakout speed, athletic moves to make oncoming defenders, and the instant catch-and-run ability in the passing game.

Last season, Bell accounted for 1,291 rushing yards (3rd in the league) and nine touchdowns (highest in his pro career) on 321 rushing attempts (also highest in his career) averaging 86.1 rushing yards per game and four yards per rushing attempt. His patience to wait for his offensive linemen to finish their blocks, speed, and strength to stiff-arm defenders was a big contribution to his success last season. In a league where running backs like Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara are contributing huge success to their teams in the passing game, Bell also is thriving. Last season, Bell caught 85 passes for 655 yards (an average of 7.7 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.

With all the talent and contributions that Bell brings in for the Steelers, there should not be any reason that deserves to be treated one of the highest paid players in the league but there comes at a bargain price for both parties. At the age of 26, Bell might have plenty of years left in the league but there soon comes the shelf life of players that have played his position.

Former 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year in running back DeMarco Murray recently retired at the age of 30 because he could not contribute the same impact he had when he was 25. Bell has shown no signs of slowing but this trait does not show signs early. Pittsburgh would be stuck in an expensive contract with a potentially aging player plus they will need to contribute to other positions on the team. This season, star receiver Antonio Brown will get $7.95 million (7th highest this season) but he receives $22.16 next season as a part of his contract. Bell and the Steelers may both be right but one way or another, this marriage between the elite running back and the elite organization will need to settle or separate.

Michael Hanich is a sports journalist and analyst in Gulf Shores, Ala., who writes for multiple outlets, in print and online. Hanich is a student at the University of South Alabama seeking a master’s degree in communications with a concentration in journalism. 

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