Running back Le’Veon Bell, previously of the Pittsburgh Steelers, decided to reject his $14.5 million contract offer for this season. Which begs the question: Why?
It’s the 25th of July at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. Like every other NFL team, the multitude of players – old and new – will grind it out in the sweltering heat in anticipation for the new season. The players must put themselves through both mental and physical agony, tasked with learning a new playbook, and bracing their bodies for another arduous season against some of the finest athletes in the world. But something’s amiss…
That’s because, Le’Veon Bell, their two-time All-Pro running back, has not shown up…
Fast forward four months, to the halfway point of the 2018 NFL season, the Steelers are leading their division with a 6-2-1 record, but there’s still no sign of Bell. Branded by several teammates as ‘selfish’ and mercenary, the running back has faced a huge public backlash from both the media and his own teammates. Despite having been offered a contract of $14.55 million, Bell decided that he was worth more, and refused to report to the Steelers. His deadline for turning up was Thursday the 14th of November, which has now passed, which leads to the question: why on earth would anyone turn down that much money?
“Players are powerless, while the team owners hold all the leverage.”
The answer is simple: because he’s worth more. NFL contracts, unlike other sports, are not fully guaranteed, meaning players can be released before seeing out their current deals, and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s a cruel environment, with increasing controversy regarding players’ job security. Bell’s contract offer was under the ‘franchise tag’, which means he would be paid his market value for just one season, but what about after that season? And, what’s more, what if he gets injured?
Injury is synonymous with the sport of American football, and so it is impossible to overlook. If a player does get injured while playing under the franchise tag, they will not receive all of their money. Earlier this season, Seattle Seahawks future hall of fame safety, Earl Thomas, decided to stage a similar holdout. He eventually decided to play, until suffering a season ending injury that meant he would not receive anything like the amount of the money he was owed. Players are powerless, while the team owners hold all the leverage.
Yeah, but 14 million is 14 million though, right?…..
Ultimately, yes. Le’Veon Bell decided to pass up this money in hope that he will sign a superior, colossal deal in the off season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. But will he get such a deal? This has been a hot topic for debate among NFL coaches, players and fans alike. Irrespective of whether Bell lands such a contract, he may still never recoup the $14.5 million deficit. Not to mention his age (27), meaning he will miss a year of his prime due to his own decision rather than an injury.
In short, Bell took a big risk in the hopes that this will provoke a shift in the leverage of NFL players in contract negotiations. Surely, in the most physically demanding and violent league on the planet, the most talented players deserve to be paid their true worth? This remains to be seen, but we, and Le’Veon, will find out soon enough.