Here's a stat that explains why even stars like Le'Veon Bell can't get monster deals
Le'Veon's elite 2017 production was matched by Green Bay's cheap and inexperienced trio of runners
Le'Veon Bell is one of the best running backs in football, if not the best. This has been true basically since he entered the league as a second-round pick out of Michigan State back in 2013.
Bell has made the Pro Bowl in three of his five NFL seasons (all but his rookie year and the year he tore his knee) and has been named a first team All-Pro twice and a second teamer once. Despite missing 18 games due to injury or suspension, Bell ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns since the start of his rookie season. He has also been the NFL's most prolific pass-catching running back during that time, hauling in 25 more passes than any other player out of the backfield, and accumulating nearly 300 more receiving yards than the next-closest back as well.
And yet, Bell and the Steelers have now twice failed to come to an agreement on a long-term contract, and if he wants to play in 2018, it will have to be on the franchise tag once again. For all intents and purposes, Bell's Steelers career will be over after the 2018 season, largely because he views himself as a far more valuable player than do the Steelers.
There has been a lot of chatter about the kind of contract Bell wants to receive, with numbers in the mid to high teens per year being thrown around. That, essentially, would pay Bell like a No. 1 wide receiver rather than a No. 1 running back. Bell is the only running back in the league who currently makes more money on a per-year basis than the Falcons' Devonta Freeman, whose current contract pays him an average annual salary of $8.25 million and contained just over $22 million in practical guaranteed money at the time he signed.
The Steelers offered Bell much more than that, but also much less than he asked for. Why? Well, it's obviously because they view his skill set as elite, but not necessarily irreplaceable. That may seem outlandish, but it's really not. Consider this:
The Green Bay Packers' backfield trio of rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones plus converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery averaged exactly the same amount of yards per touch in 2017 as Bell. You might think Bell faced more difficult circumstances with teams ganging up to stop the run while the Packers were going against more wide-open boxes, but that's not true. They had almost exactly the same number of defenders in the box, on average, as well.
Bell on his own had greater touch volume than the Packers' trio of backs, but not by much. He touched the ball 406 times in 2017 -- 321 runs and 85 catches. Combined, the Packers' backs had 362 touches. Basically, he touched the ball 2.75 more times per game than they did. And he gave the Steelers the same production as they gave the Packers, only he did it at nearly seven times the cost.
And that, right there, is why it just doesn't seem worth it for teams to make so-called "Godfather offers" to uber-talented running backs. You get the elite production, but the cost basis is just so much higher than it would be to throw a bunch of random backs together in the backfield and get similar production for a fraction of the cost.
When he hits free agency next offseason, there will surely be a team willing to pay Bell big money. Probably not as much money as he asked the Steelers for, but certainly more than Freeman's getting right now. (Assuming Bell stays healthy and productive.) But there will be other teams who pass on Bell, cobble together a backfield out of spare parts for far less money, get similar production, and are able to use the savings to build out the rest of their team.
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