When healthy, Le’veon Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL. The problem is, in the last 2 seasons Bell hasn’t finished the season intact. The former all pro running back has had back to back seasons ended by serious knee injuries. Now decision time is coming for the Steelers, with Bell entering the last year of his rookie deal in 2016. The Steelers have 3 options at this point. They can sign him to a long term contract, put the franchise tag on him after the season, or try to trade him this offseason.
Signing Le’veon Bell to a long term deal is a risky proposition to the Steelers. Bell’s agent will undoubtedly look to Adrian Peterson’s deal of 3 years $42 million as a starting point. The Steelers could use Bell’s injury as leverage to get a far reduced number then that. There’s also the argument of whether a running back is worth signing to a large long term deal at all. It’s been shown time and again that good backs can be found rather easily. Ironically, Bell is a good example of that having been drafted in the 3rd round. The flip side is Le’Veon is a special talent that doesn’t come around often. Pittsburgh would most likely try to get Bell signed to a 10 million per year range contract.
The Steelers also have the option to wait out this season to see how Bell plays, then put the franchise tag on him. The risk here is if Le’veon has a good comeback season, the franchise tag number will be extremely high. Going into this season the tag number for running backs is expected to be around 11 million. These numbers generally go up every year, so Pittsburgh could be looking at 12 plus million for their star running back in 2017. If they were to look to sign him long term after that, 12 million per year would have to be the starting point. The upside to this is Pittsburgh would get one more season to see how Bell’s knee comes back from his latest injury. If it doesn’t, the Steelers could let him go as a free agent with no salary cap hit.
Trading Le’veon Bell this offseason is the most intriguing option of the three. Determining what Bell’s trade value is will be the tricky part. Could they get a first round pick for Bell? If so, how high in the first round would the pick have to be to get the Steelers to bite? Pittsburgh has glaring needs on defense. Needs that they probably won’t be able to fill at 25, which is where they are drafting now. Getting a higher pick for Bell could help the Steelers acquire a much needed pass rusher or shut down corner. Would the Giants part with the number 10 pick for Bell? That would certainly get the Steelers attention. The Colts have a need for a running back, would the 18th pick be enough for Pittsburgh to jump? Of course, there’s no guarantee that anyone would give a 1st round pick for Bell because of his injury situation. If the Steelers were to trade Le’veon, they do have DeAngelo Williams to fall back on. Williams is signed through next season, which would give the Steelers time to find a young back to replace Bell.
All three of these scenarios make sense in one way or another for Pittsburgh. If history is any lesson when it comes to the Steelers, Pittsburgh will look to sign Le’Veon Bell to a long term deal prior to the season. The Steelers often look to sign their own players before they hit free agency. Locking up a unique talent like Bell is not a bad idea all things considered. Especially is Pittsburgh can get him on a slightly less then market value due to Bell’s recent injuries.