Johnson delivered Bell a big blow in the Pittsburgh Steelers running back’s contract negotiations, which have escalated to a Week 1 holdout.
Johnson took a deal which paled in comparison to the deal Bell wants. The Cardinals running back signed a deal worth up to $45 million with $30 million guaranteed.
Bell shot down a deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers, though it’s not totally clear what that deal looked like. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport has suggested that Bell’s deal included $30 million guaranteed before changing that sum to $10 million guaranteed — a tremendous difference.
The Steelers offered Bell more money than Johnson, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But, again, that begs the question: more guaranteed more, more total money or more total? In the NFL where teams have the upper hand financially, guaranteed money is the often the most important barometer for players.
The bottom line is that Bell wouldn’t accept the deal Johnson signed. Bell probably still wants $17 million per year, a sum he seems intent upon pursuing in free agency after the 2018 season. And Johnson’s decision to sign his deal cuts the knees out from under Bell.
The two running backs are in different situations, without a doubt. Johnson was set to enter free agency after 2018, but he is coming off an injury. That surely impacted his leverage while negotiating now. Johnson was also set to play for $1.8 million in 2018, while Bell was supposed to sign his franchise tag for the second straight year (worth $14.5 million). But in 2016, Johnson and Bell had comparable seasons. In fact, Johnson outplayed Bell. In 16 games in 2016, Johnson had 293 rushes for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns and 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns. Bell finished with 261 carried for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns with 75 receptions for 616 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.
Bell has been more consistent throughout his career with over 1,800 yards from scrimmage in three of the last four seasons. However, Johnson has proven he can as good and more productive than Bell. Thus, Johnson’s decision to settle for far less than what Bell wants must be disheartening for the Steelers running back.
Had Johnson played well in 2018 (or anywhere near where he played in 2016), he and Bell could have worked together to push the running back market upward in free agency. Instead, Johnson settled for security, perhaps for fear of regressing slightly due to his injury. Johnson settled for a below-market contract, which pales in comparison to the one the Rams gave Todd Gurley (four years, $57.5 million and $45 million guaranteed) this offseason. It’s impossible to blame Johnson for taking the deal that he did — he’s getting paid a life-changing sum, and he was not a high pick who has made a lot of money in the NFL to this point.
Bell is still a lone wolf fighting to get paid what he deserves. And he doesn’t seem to be getting help anytime soon.