The payoff is coming for Le'Veon Bell.
The running back appears intent upon refusing all $14 million of his franchise tag. He will not report to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and will skip the entire 2018 season, according to multiple reports. The running back is almost definitely set to part ways with the Steelers when 2019 free agency arrives.
While Bell’s decision to hold out for all of 2018 has already cost him dearly, two NFL teams can make that holdout seem worthwhile. The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts have a tremendous amount of money to spend, and they are both in serious need of offensive playmakers to support their quarterbacks.
Bell would be an excellent addition for either offense.
While these salary cap figures are just a projection, the Colts are set to have almost $125 million in cap space and the Jets should have about $105 million to spend. Even if Bell wants a major deal — something north of Todd Gurley’s $57.7 million deal — the Colts or Jets can still oblige.
If Bell and his agent succeed in negotiations, they may have changed the landscape of free agency. Few will recreate Bell’s situation because few are as talented as the running back. But the players will certainly threaten to recreate Bell’s situation when facing a franchise tag.
Bell will definitely lose money, no matter how you look at his upcoming deal. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t accomplish his objective heading into this holdout. The plan has always been to pass on $14 million to make between $30 million and $40 million guaranteed with an even bigger total sum non-guaranteed.
He’ll have to face skepticism in free agency that his year away from football won’t result in rust, physically and mentally. But he’ll be 27 season to start next season, and he should be fresher than he’s ever been. He will have more leverage in his current situation than if he was coming off a 350-touch season, something that probably would have happened if he’d played. Or worse, he could be negotiating a new deal after suffering a season-ending injury in 2018, which would have annihilated his earning power.
As strange as this season has been for Bell and the Steelers, Bell will be happy he decided to pass on $14 million, because the teams with spending power should and likely will circle him as a top priority in free agency.
The Jets have running backs Isaiah Crowell and Elijah McGuire for cheap, but Bell would provide an enormous upgrade, which would help with the development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. The Colts have running backs Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, but they’d surely rather have Bell, who would be terrific in combination with quarterback Andrew Luck, who has been carrying this Indy team all season.
Bell will shatter the record for a running back’s contract, particularly when looking at the guaranteed money he’ll earn. As turbulent as 2018 has been for Bell, his 2019 season should include the major payday he’s been patiently awaiting.