Art Rooney III finally spoke yesterday, and one of the things he touched on was the desire to get Le’Veon Bell signed to a long-term contract. This leads me to one simple question……why??? There’s no doubt Bell is one of the best backs in the NFL. The question is, does that even matter anymore? Look no further than to both Super Bowl teams to see a feature back simply isn’t necessary in today’s game. Both teams used multiple backs during the game to great success. The running back position simply is not as important as it once was. There are several other good reasons why the Steelers should not resign Le’Veon Bell, let’s go through the list one at a time:
- Usage and Injuries – Over the last two seasons Bell has led the league in offensive touches by a wide margin. In 2017 alone he touched the ball over 400 times between rushing and receiving. There’s no way that any back can keep this pace up, and continue to be affective. In fact, his likelihood of getting injured goes up significantly. We all know Le’Veon Bell has had injury problems in the past. His usage over the past two seasons would appear to make him a ticking time bomb. This is not the type of player you want to sign to a multi-year deal. It’s just too risky a proposition for the team to take.
- Salary Cap – Depending on which number you read the Pittsburgh Steelers are roughly $2 million over the salary cap as it stands right now. That number does not include what they will have to pay Bell in 2018. If the team were forced to franchise tag him, they would have to carve out $15 million in cap space. That means contract restructures for other players, and ultimately players getting cut in order to fit Bell in. If Pittsburgh could get a long-term contract done, it would lower the cap hit for 2018 a great deal. That would only be a one year fix however, as the cap hit would go up drastically year after year. Essentially signing Bell would keep the team from signing any significant free agents going forward. In other words, no outside help for a defense that desperately needs it.
- Money and Position importance – It’s no secret the running back position has been diminished over the last few years. Offenses are no longer run heavy the way they were in the past. That has begun to show in the salaries of running backs. The highest paid running back not named Le’veon Bell made $8.2 million last season. In fact, if you add all the salaries of the six backs used by both the Eagles and the Patriots during the Super Bowl, it comes out to only $8.4 million. Le’Veon Bell is seeking a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million per season. That’s so far off where the market is going for that position it’s impossible to justify.
- Distractions – Let’s face it, Bell has been far from a saint during his time as a Steeler. He seems to have gotten past his multiple drug suspensions that plagued him not so long ago. What’s concerning now is the missed practice he had right before the most important game of the season. Think about that for a minute, he skipped a practice before a play-off game. How in the world do you reward a player with a lucrative long-term deal after that? That sends a terrible message to a team already struggling with discipline problems.
- Needs elsewhere – As I touched on earlier, this team has major needs at other positions. Rather than tying up so much cap room on Bell, this team would be better served spending on the defense. There’s no question there is a huge need at inside linebacker. Nobody wants to see 16 more games of Sean Spence god forbid. Then there’s the annual hunt for an outside linebacker who can actually rush the passer. It’s time to say that Bud Dupree isn’t that guy. He’s not the bust that Jarvis Jones was, but he simply isn’t an above average pass rusher. An upgrade at safety wouldn’t be a bad thing to use valuable cap space on either. Mike Mitchell was never a pro-bowl caliber player in the first place, now he appears to have lost a step. As well as Kevin Colbert has drafted in his career, it’s highly unlikely he could plug all these holes through the draft. Simply put, the $15 million could be better used upgrading the defense rather than on a an over used running back.
In a vacuum, resigning a running back like Le’Veon Bell seems like a no brainer. He’s clearly one of, if not the best in the league. When you start adding up the factors listed above it becomes a lot more complicated. This team could easily draft a running back in the third round, sign a cheap free agent back, and see very little drop off in production. All the while filling much needed holes in other parts of the roster. That’s not even considering trading Bell and adding assets to further improve the team as i discussed in an earlier post – Which teams would be most interested in a Le’Veon Bell trade. In the end Bell may eventually force the Steelers hand. He’s shown no sign of backing down from his demands. Demands Kevin Colbert and company would be foolish to agree to.