Ender: Bell Leaving Pittsburgh May Be the Best Option for Both Partiesby Davis Ender July 31, 2018 0 comments
The July extension deadline has passed and the Steelers have once again failed to come to terms on a long-term deal with star running back Le’Veon Bell.
He will once again play under the franchise tag, which gives him $14.544 million for the 2018 season. Given that this is the second straight season the two parties have failed to come to an agreement, this will likely be Bell’s final season in a Steelers uniform.
Bell will once again hold out for the duration of training camp like he did in 2017 which shows that he clearly isn’t happy about his contract situation. The two parties may be parting ways due to Bell becoming an unrestricted free agent once the season ends, but that might not be a bad thing for either side.
Since 2013, Bell has been a key piece for the Steelers offense and he’s been able to play on championship level rosters while running behind a top-tier offensive line, so how on Earth could this work for either side?
At the end of the day, it comes down to what each side wants. The Steelers want to win a seventh Super Bowl while Bell wants to change the running back market and be paid as both the star running back he is and as a wide receiver two. Those two things don’t necessarily contradict each other, but given the circumstances of the Steelers roster, Pittsburgh can’t afford to pay Bell the contract he wants.
Bell turned down a five-year, 70 million dollar extension from the Steelers earlier, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If Bell wants more than that, then he should test the market in free agency.
The 26-year-old is making a huge mistake by demanding a contract of this caliber as it will cripple the cap space of any team that gives it to him, but he’s made it clear that his primary concern at the moment is money. Breaking the bank for a running back simply isn’t worth it though, even for a talent as special as Bell and especially given the Steelers current situation.
He also needs to understand that he has played behind the best Steelers offensive line in decades and that his patient running style may not translate well to every roster in the NFL. If Bell joined a team with a weak offensive line—like the Seattle Seahawks—he would be a sitting duck in the backfield.
Bell is a special player—the best running back in the NFL—and absolutely as good as he thinks he is, but at the end of the day having players like him alone don’t correlate to winning championships.
The below chart created by Warren Sharp illustrates the cap hit and the number of carries for the running back that lead every super bowl roster in snaps at running back since 2005.
Notice how almost none of these teams have a high cap hit at running back and the snap count is relatively low. Marshawn Lynch in 2013 and Ray Rice in 2012 aside, no team had a cap hit higher than $4.1 million. Having a superstar rusher in the backfield hasn’t translated to championships for most teams in the past. Instead, these teams focused on building their roster and using mostly committee based backfields.
The Steelers themselves won two Super Bowls in that span and made a third trip to the Super Bowl while riding a low cap hit, running back committee. The likes of Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were still able to be effective despite not being superstars.
Another reason the Steelers should move on from Bell is the fact that as great as their offense has been with him in it, his presence won’t fix the issues on the defensive side of the ball. There is a consistent argument that running backs help out your defense, by slowing down the game, but this hasn’t really been a factor for Pittsburgh.
In some of Bell’s strongest games of 2018, the Steelers defense—minus Ryan Shazier—was lit up by the likes of Brett Hundley, Joe Flacco, and Blake Bortles. Even the 0-16 Browns found some success moving the ball on them in Week 17—though Bell did not play. Giving Bell this market breaking contract would also inhibit the Steelers ability to bring in any future defensive free agents.
Bell is a special player and make no mistake, his departure would absolutely sting the Steelers offense to a degree. However, at the end of the day, paying him would cripple what they are able to do in terms of improving the roster.
Ben Roethlisberger has plenty of top-tier receivers to work with such as Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and any running back should be able to produce decent numbers behind the Steelers elite offensive line.
Bell has been a staple of Steeler football this decade, but if Pittsburgh wants to keep their championship window open, they shouldn’t break the bank for him.