Le’Veon Bell made a big bet last year. The ante? $14.54 million, minus federal taxes, state taxes, and agent fees.
The payoff? Still to be determined.
The good news for Bell is that he’ll get a chance to finally pull the lever, watch the three wheels spin, and hope to see and hear a trio of 7s lock into place. The no-news-for-now is that no one knows what he’ll get.
Soon (if not already), agent Adisa Bakari will gather general information regarding specific interested teams, and he possibly will hear what those teams may be willing to pay. Key factors will include signing bonus, full guarantee at signing, injury guarantee, payout in the first three years, and annual average.
Skeptics will say that he’ll never make the $14.54 million that he sacrificed in 2018. Those same skeptics may not point out that Bell would have had to risk significant injury — and the low-level 2019 contract offer that would have gone along with it — to get that money. They also may fail to point out that the Steelers, given their peculiar rules regarding player contracts, didn’t offer Bell the kind of security to which a second franchise tag should have translated on a multi-year deal, given the starting point of $14.54 million.
Bell is getting that security only by hitting the market, as a highly-talented tailback with plenty of tread still on the tires. Although it’s becoming fashionable to bash Bell’s abilities (especially in Pittsburgh), there’s no denying that he’s still one of the best running backs in the NFL. If not the very best.
There’s also no denying that, on the first day of free agency, money gets spent for reasons other than football. It’s about winning press conferences, selling tickets, moving merchandising, purchasing relevance.
The Jets, for example, need to better compete in their division and in their own stadium. The Giants have Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. The Jets have Sam Darnold. The Jets need more.
The Jets also have two years before Darnold becomes eligible for a new contract, giving the cash-and-cap-rich Jets plenty of reason to spend plenty of money on capable players who will help accelerate Darnold’s development.
Whether it’s the Jets or someone else (the Raiders, Packers, Ravens, etc.), someone will throw football and non-football reasons into a vat, cook up an offer, and likely blow the lid off the market. That’s what transpires when great players get to the open market, something that rarely happens.
It will happen on March 13, when Bell should easily become the highest-paid tailback in NFL history. Once the money rolls in, the time will come to assess whether rejecting Pittsburgh’s long-term and one-year offer in 2018 was worth it.