Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not take part in a single training camp practice and finally signed his franchise tag on Monday. He’ll get paid $12.12 million, all fully guaranteed, for the 2017 season and will be able to re-address acquiring a long-term contract after the season.
General manager Kevin Colbert was not happy about the running back’s decision to stay away from the team. Bell also received numerous pleas from teammates to come into camp and help prepare for a Super Bowl run.
However, none of that inspired Bell to show up until September 1, when he passed a physical. On Monday, he explained his reasons.
“I wanted to make sure I was fresh for the season,” Bell said, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I didn’t want to jeopardize myself and get hurt in camp. I understand I’m on a one-year deal, so I have to prepare and play football. I didn’t want to get hurt in camp. In my rookie camp, I got hurt. I didn’t want to deal with that. I’m going to be ready for Game 1, the games that count.”
Bell was said to have turned down a contract that would have paid him over $12 million per season. His agent denied the report, and on Monday Bell also shot down the report. Instead, he made it clear there are no hard feelings between himself and the organization, and that the focus now is on winning games, not his contract.
“I don’t look at it being a negative,” Bell said of the negotiations with the Steelers. “We didn’t get a deal done. That’s not a bash on me or the organization. We’ll go through the season. Maybe next year something happens. But we’re worried about this year. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl. That’s the biggest thing.”
It’s hard to criticize Bell here. While it’s true he would have gotten $12.12 million if he got injured in camp, the truth of the matter is he’d get plenty more than that on a long-term deal. But if he had signed his tag and showed up to camp and gotten injured, he’d have a lot less leverage during the offseason than he would if he played the season, stayed healthy and produced like he normally does.
There’s another angle at play here as well. Players who hold out are often criticized for being “selfish.” However, when teams cut a player despite said player having years left on his contract, there is not the same outcry from the general public that the team should honor that contract. Unlike MLB or the NBA, NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. Players have to be smart about how they approach their careers so they can be properly compensated for putting their health and futures on the line.
For what it’s worth, Bell says he’s ready for 30 touches a game, starting in Week 1. He’s fully confident he will be able to play at full speed and have the stamina to play all game long. Time will tell if that’s true, but one thing we know for certain is Bell hasn’t approached this season with his eyes closed.