With Monday’s deadline to sign Le’Veon Bell to a long term extension passing without a big deal, it really makes things pretty simple for the upcoming season.
The only question remaining in 2017 is when will Bell sign his tender and report to the team. He could wait until mid-season to report, get his full contract, and accrue a full season making him a free agent in 2018; but I don’t see that happening. The more likely scenario is Bell shows up somewhere around week 3 of the pre-season and plays out the year as planned.
Where the situation gets more interesting is next off-season. Essentially, the situation will be the same but the tag number will go up to 14 million.
While I think that would be an over-pay for Le’Veon; with Ben Roethlisberger only have a few seasons left (at the most), it’d be worth paying to keep all your horses for that championship run while you have a franchise quarterback.
I think what makes a long-term deal so difficult is with the running back market actually falling, versus escalating over the past several years. The franchise tag tender number comes from the average salaries over the past 5 seasons though, so some of the monster deals from guys like Adrian Peterson are factored in. That means the current market value is less than what Le’Veon is making on his tender amount.
Personally, I’m on the fence on the whole situation and would be happy with a lot of different scenarios.
One one hand, Le’Veon is one of the most valuable players in the leauge regardless of position. He’s capable of carry the team on his back for stretches of games and takes a ton of pressure off of the team’s aging quarterback. For those reasons I’d have no issues with them giving him 10-11 million per year.
On the other hand, this offense makes it easy on running backs and we saw guys like LaGarette Blount and DeAngelo Williams get inserted and look like pro bowl talents very quickly. By next off-season we might think that James Conner is totally capable of carrying the load. Teams like the Patriots have had great success with shuffling in cheap backs every year. It’s a position that relatively speaking is easy for a guy to come in and produce quickly; even if that guy is a rookie. Bell’s injury and suspension history still has to be factored in as well.
Just a couple notes to consider too. While I don’t see this happening the team could apply the non-exclusive tender next season if they think he may walk anyway. In that case there’s a very small chance they could get two 1st round picks in return. I’m throwing it in here because it is a possibility, but realistically nobody is going to give that up for a running back.
Also, if the team does decide to let Le’Veon walk, he will almost surely bring a 3rd round compensatory pick in return the following season. It’s not as valuable as Bell but it is some sort of consolation.
While I’d love to see a player as talented as Bell in the black and gold for the rest of his career, I think it’s important to keep some perspective. Many people were upset yesterday but the team is still in a solid position and has a lot of options open to them. While it’d be an expensive option, the team does have the power to ensure that Bell is on the roster in 2018 too, regardless of what he wants. Hopefully we’re coming off the high of a Superbowl win by the time the team has to make that decision next off-season.