- Le’Veon Bell has been holding out from training camp and the preseason and may now take it into the regular season, in which he would lose $US852,000 for every week he misses.
- ESPN’s Adam Schefter explained that despite losing salary this season by holding out, Bell could make up for it with a market-changing contract next offseason.
- By missing games, Bell is also preserving his body and keeping his touch count low, meaning he could extend his career and warrant the type of big contract that running backs rarely receive later in their careers.
Le’Veon Bell’s contract holdout from the Pittsburgh Steelers took an ugly turn on Wednesday when several of his teammates openly criticised him for failing to show up days before Week 1.
Bell has been holding out from the preseason and training camp, refusing to report for the $US14.5 million franchise tag after he and the Steelers in July failed to agree on a new contract. Bell is looking for a deal that pays him as the best running back and doesn’t want to play on one he feels is below market for his skills.
In taking his holdout into the regular season, Bell would forfeit $US852,000 for each week he misses. He has until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to report to the Steelers to avoid losing a week of salary.
Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, has said Bell plans to protect his long-term future by not racking up touches and miles on his legs before he hits free agency next offseason. They’re worried the Steelers would run him into the ground this year, then let him go next offseason.
While holdouts are frequent in the NFL, it’s hard to find one similar to Bell’s. As ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote, there’s no precedent for this in the modern NFL. In the past, some players missed a game or two before signing the franchise tag.
And while Bell is sacrificing money and goodwill with his teammates, ESPN’s Adam Schefter explained on “Golic and Wingo” on Thursday that there was a chance that Bell could come out of the whole situation a winner.
First, by missing games, Bell is preserving his body and keeping his touches lower before he heads into free agency.
Second, Bell has a measure of control over the situation. The Steelers most likely won’t trade him, because first, Bell would have to sign his tender to be traded, and second, teams would have to give up a draft pick for a player who can hit free agency next year.
The Steelers are unlikely to rescind the tag for Bell, because if he leaves in free agency next year, the Steelers will be compensated with a draft pick. Rescinding the tag would make Bell an unrestricted free agent.
But perhaps most interestingly, Schefter thinks Bell can land the type of offer he’s looking for next season despite being 26 and having a lot of carries throughout his career. Schefter said Bell could be in line for an offer similar to the four-year, $US60 million contract the Los Angeles Rams gave Todd Gurley this offseason.
“You’re saying goodbye to hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars here,” Schefter said. “Now, saying that, you look at what Todd Gurley just did: signing a four-year, $US60 million extension, $US45 million guaranteed. If Le’Veon Bell bids goodbye to four, five, six, $US7 million this year, what does it matter when you’re going to go sign a $US70 million contract?”
Bell and his camp are undoubtedly wary of what happened to DeMarco Murray. The running back racked up over 1,800 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards on more than 400 total touches with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. The Cowboys let him go the next offseason as he turned 27. Murray failed to secure a massive payday that a career season would typically produce, and his body was never the same afterward. He retired this offseason at 30 years old.
While Schefter predicted that Bell would report within the first month of the season, Bell could take his holdout to Week 12, by which time he must show up to become a free agent next season. As Mike Golic argued on Thursday, if Bell is willing to miss a month of the season, it might make sense to continue the holdout until Week 12 so he could further preserve his body and touches.
The risk for Bell would be that his backup, James Conner, capably fills the running-back void for the Steelers this season, thus lowering Bell’s image around the league. But any team looking for an elite running back next season may be comfortable enough with Bell’s résumé to give him a big contract anyway.
Bell is looking past this season and taking his future into his own hands. While the league tends to see drop-offs from running backs around ages 29 and 30, Bell might change that ageing curve by protecting his body for a year. Despite the negatives that might come with a holdout – docked salary, missed games, and scrutiny – there’s a path in which it pays off.
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