Will Le'Veon Bell's gamble pay off?

Yahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

It’s official: Le’Veon Bell did not report to the Pittsburgh Steelers by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, and cannot play this season.

In doing so, he has walked away from a one-year, fully guaranteed $14.45 million franchise tender.

Bell left a lot on the table

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To almost all of us, it’s a crazy decision on its face. Who walks away from that much money?

But Bell is making a decision he believes is in his best interests short and long term. He also could be changing things for other NFL players going forward.

Le’Veon Bell won’t play in 2018 – will his gamble pay off? (Getty Images)
Le’Veon Bell won’t play in 2018 – will his gamble pay off? (Getty Images)

He has already exposed a loophole in the franchise-tagging system, namely that even when a player sits out an entire year when he has been designated as a franchise player, the year accrues. So in Bell’s case, 2018 was his second straight franchise tag year, meaning that if the Steelers really, truly, after all of this wanted to franchise him again in 2019 it would be his third straight tag and be incredibly expensive.

As noted by Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, a third tag for Bell would garner him the higher of two numbers: either 144 percent of Bell’s 2018 salary (in this case, $20,808,000) or the average of the league’s top five highest paid quarterbacks, which would be north of $25 million.

Rolling the dice on himself

Not every player has the temerity to gamble on himself and sit out an entire season, not in a business where your successor – usually younger and cheaper and therefore more appealing to the front office – might be on the roster with you.

That’s playing out in Pittsburgh, where 2017 third-round pick James Conner had a streak of four straight 100-yard rushing games broken last week. Conner already has 771 yards rushing, 1,158 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. He may not be the generational talent Bell is, but in the Steelers’ offense, he gets the job done.

Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, teaches his clients to know their value on and off the field, and Bell believes his pay should reflect his production. As a running back, he may get only one long-term contract; his four-year rookie contract was a bargain at $4.1 million.

Over his first four seasons, Bell was a two-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro and set the franchise record for yards from scrimmage in 2014. He also was suspended for the start of the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Last year, he played under the franchise tag, which earned him $12.12 million.

Will Bell net more down the line?

There are numerous teams who will be interested in signing Bell, but the financial commitment will be substantial. According to OvertheCap.com, the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills currently have significant salary-cap space heading into 2019.

Given the Raiders’ recent moves, it seems unlikely they’d be interested.

There’s also a question of how teams will see Bell’s decision. Given what we’ve seen from NFL teams, he could be tagged as selfish and not worth the trouble or financial commitment, despite his obvious talent.

Bell’s floor will likely be Todd Gurley’s contract: the Rams’ star back signed a four-year, $57.5 million deal with $45 million guaranteed. Having over three-quarters of his deal guaranteed is impressive.

ProFootballTalk.com reported last month that the Steelers offered Bell a three-year, $47 million contract with a “practical guarantee” of $20 million, which is only 42 percent guaranteed.

It takes only one, of course, one team willing to pony up what Bell believes he’s worth. He has a few months to wait before he finds out whether it will all work out.

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