Thoughts on Le’Veon Bell’s Contract Offer

Yesterday we looked at Kirk Cousins contract offer and today we’ll take a look at Le’Veon Bell’s basics which were reported on today by Tom Pelissero. Per Pelissero the offer included $30 million in the first two years of the contract and $42 million across three years. Unlike the Cousins offer, which was pretty weak by any standard, this seemed pretty strong and it is hard to see how Bell turned this one down so lets explore.

As a pure new contract the numbers would put Bell at $12+ million a year over a five year timeframe. That would be the largest APY for a running back since Adrian Peterson’s $14 million and change contract a few years back.  From a new money standpoint the Bell metrics would surpass Peterson’s on the frontend numbers. They would also obliterate any recent veteran contract. Here are the 2 and 3 year comps:

Player2 Year3 year
Bell$30,000,000$42,000,000
Peterson$29,280,000$41,280,000
McCoy$21,050,000$27,300,000
Martin$15,000,000$21,750,000
Miller$14,000,000$19,750,000
Ivory$12,500,000$18,500,000

So not only is this offer pretty incredible by today’s standards, but historically it’s also pretty solid.

Like with Cousins we can also factor out the fact that he was set to already earn $12.1 million on the year to determine what he is earning purely in new money in the first two years of a new contract. Again these numbers would paint things in a pretty solid light and represent a small raise over Peterson’s numbers, which seem to be a baseline used in the offer.

Player1 Year2 Year
Bell$17,880,000$29,880,000
Peterson$17,780,000$29,280,000
McCoy$16,000,000$21,050,000
Martin$8,000,000$15,000,000
Miller$8,500,000$14,000,000
Ivory$7,500,000$12,500,000

Unlike Cousins, who is in a position to break the bank next year, it is hard to imagine Bell making over $18 million next season to justify passing this contract up. First of all the running back market is simply stagnant. Bell is far and away the best of the bunch, but we don’t have any players in the NFL making over $8.01 million a year.  The high point year 1 payment in the NFL is McCoy at $16 million but he falls way short of Bell’s proposed two year “new money” earnings. So at best I would guess that Bell would break even if he hit free agency and his earnings between now and 2019 would probably fail to reach these proposed numbers.

Not only that but if the Steelers tag him again his salary next year will be just $14.52 million, well short of the number needed to break even. Again this was very different than Cousins. The Cousins offer basically built in the value of a transition tag and shortchanged him on the franchise tag. The two year offered to Bell is stronger than two tags and is the more traditional way things work when  trying to make a sincere offer.

Secondly Bell is an injury risk and a suspension risk. Cousins’ position is more or less injury and age proof for a second contract. Bell’s is a high risk position and his history is terrible. He’s had multiple knee injuries  and been suspended twice. Another injury and suspension is just going to hurt his value. From the standpoint of a suspension he would also stand to lose 1/17 ($712,941) for each week suspended. If he signed a long term deal with a signing bonus he would lose 1/17 of a much lower base salary and just 1/17th of 1/5th of his overall bonus paid in 2017.

So why would he turn this contract down?  That is hard to say. About the only things that could really be at hand here are the issue of guarantees and payment timings.  The Steelers organization offers very large signing bonuses relative to the majority of the NFL, but they don’t guarantee salary beyond that. For example Antonio Brown received $19 million as a signing bonus but not a penny more guaranteed.  That’s simply doing business with the Steelers and you need to accept that when you sign with them.

Pittsburgh is also one of the stronger organizations when it comes to honoring contracts regardless of guarantees. The only team that is probably better in this regard is the Bengals, who often have even less favorable payment terms. The contract structure in Pittsburgh also helps since the cost to cut is high early on. This is how the league used to operate and Pittsburgh is one of the few who still does this way.

Pittsburgh’s standard contract also often contains a second year roster bonus earned in March. I guess it is possible, given Bell’s suspension potential, that they did not want to use that mechanism and preferred a full base salary which would be more open to recovery in the event of a long suspension.

Might the first year payment have been a little light?  That is also possible, though Id imagine under any scenario it was going to not only be greater than what he is currently scheduled to earn but also bigger than McCoy’s $16 million. In any event the number was going to be more than he is set to earn now.

Obviously we aren’t privy to the entire offer but based on what is out there it is really hard to see why this contract did not work for Bell. It is highly doubtful that he will top it by signing next year and if guarantees are the issue well his best offer is going to come from the Steelers anyway next year and that will not include any fancy guarantees like we see elsewhere. I don’t really see the reward here for Bell but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc