Oct 31, 2018
The NFL trade deadline ended Tuesday at 4 pm EST. A couple big names got moved around, most notably wide-receivers Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas, who were shipped to Philadelphia and Houston respectively. But the biggest name, the name that has clogged NFL rumor mills all season, stayed put. If the title wasn't enough to clue you in, I'm talking about Le'Veon Bell. All eyes seemed to be on Pittsburgh Tuesday, waiting for any news on the All-Pro running back. Nothing. Le'Veon continued to hold out, so the Steelers didn't even have the ability to trade him if they wanted to. So what happens now?
That question has been asked week-in and week-out as this bizarre holdout has unfolded. To catch you up, Le'Veon got franchised tagged this year, giving him a $14.54 million fully guaranteed contract. Le'Veon thinks he deserves more and decided to not show up until he was given more. Pittsburgh hasn't caved yet, and for every game Le'Veon misses he also forfeits an $855,000 game check. When will he show up? If I knew that I probably would not be writing articles for a daily fantasy sports company. I do know that if he doesn't report and sign his contract before week 10 he will not accrue a season towards free agency. If he signs before then he can still become an unrestricted free agent after 2018. So he has some incentive to return in the next two weeks, but that's really all we know.
Does Le'Veon deserve more than $14.54 million? Well, that $14.54 million is already well above what any other running back is being paid this year, so it seems odd he's asking for more. But Le'Veon isn't comparing himself to other running backs, he is looking at receivers and quarterbacks. Odell just signed a five year $90 million contract, becoming the highest paid receiver in the league. Mike Evans is getting $82.5 million over five years. And when you look at the money quarterbacks are making, it gets way worse. And yes, you can make the argument that quarterbacks are harder to come by than running backs, and thus their value is inflated. Makes sense. But there are 20 quarterbacks making more than the $17 million per year deal Le'Veon Bell is reportedly looking for. That list includes Case Keenum, Ryan Tannehill, and Eli Manning. Is Bell really that much more replaceable than those guy?
Well, that's where things get hairy. Nine weeks ago the answer would have probably been no. But now? It's a resounding maybe. That's because Bell's replacement James Conner has had himself a monster season. Through seven games, Conner has nine rushing touchdowns. That equals Bell's total for all of last season. Conner is averaging 4.72 yards/carry, well above Bell's 2017 mark of 4.02. Yards per reception? Same story, Conner is outperforming 2017 Bell. Most importantly, the Steelers are in first place in the AFC North. The Steelers are proving they don't need to pay Le'Veon what he is asking for, they are getting the same production out of running back making less than a million dollars this year.
Le’Veon isn’t just looking for a big paycheck though, he’s also looking for job security. He wants a long-term contract. If he signs this one year deal and tears his ACL, his free-agent stock drops dramatically. Just ask Earl Thomas. Thomas entered his last season of a $40 million deal this year and was looking for an extension or a trade. Seattle refused both. He held out the preseason, but then did the "right thing" and played for his team. Four games into the season Thomas went down with a season-ending injury. Bell is holding out to avoid such a fate. And that's what fans who are screaming about Bell being "greedy", "selfish", and “a bad teammate” don't seem to understand. A player's career can be ruined on a single play. He needs to look out for himself. Why are players the bad guys for refusing to put their career on the line for organizations that wouldn't hesitate to let them go if they suffer major injuries? There is a huge double standard in the way we expect players to be inexplicitly loyal to their franchise, but could care less how loyal a franchise is to their players.
So I guess what I'm saying is it's complicated. Duh. I have no idea what he should be getting paid. I also have no idea what the coming weeks have in store for Le'Veon and the Steelers. You're happy you read all this way to find out I know nothing? He could come back in the next two weeks and resume his starting rolls. He could come back and split the backfield. Hell, he could come back and serve as the backup the way Conner is playing. Either way, we will see major fantasy implications if/when he returns. Until then expect the NFL rumor mill to continue churning out constant Le’Veon Bell “insider updates” each week.