Why Le'Veon Bell is unlikely to get the contract the RB market deserves, and more notes
If Jarvis Landry is worth $16M a year, when will the tide turn for players who can both run and catch?
I do not expect Le'Veon Bell to come away with a market-setting, record contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I don't know too many people in the NFL who believe he will. But to say that he has a strong cheering section behind him would be an understatement.
If Bell was able to get into the $16 million to $17 million a season stratosphere it would transcend what has already been a productive offseason for running backs (buttressed by Jerick McKinnon's deal with the 49ers). If Bell was able to get the kind of money Adrian Peterson once landed from the Vikings, then the fate of the entire position group might be salvaged. In the end, he's very likely to be back on the franchise tag for a second-straight year with a divorce looming in 2019, pocketing his $27 million over two seasons and moving on. And while that wouldn't be the worst outcome in the world for the player or his future earning potential, it also requires staying injury- and suspension-free for another season -- which hasn't always been easy for him -- and also falls well short of the $45 million in guarantees that far-less-productive receivers like Sammy Watkins earned on the free-agent market a few months back (to say nothing of the slew of dubious contracts doled out to other skill players).
And the bottom line with the Steelers is that, except for quarterbacks, they aren't going to guarantee massive amounts at signing and spread those guarantees three or more years out. And while one could clearly make the argument that Bell is just as important to this offensive juggernaut as Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown, that receiver stigma, and Bell's off-field issues, in the end, will preclude him from securing a landmark pact from the Steelers by the July 16 deadline, I believe.
Whether it should or not is clearly up for debate. There are several within the NFLPA and agent community who would argue that Bell, and a handful of others at his position, deserve to be compensated as elite offensive weapons and not pure running backs based on all they do for the passing game. The fact that they can beat linebackers in space in the backfield and win against corners or safeties in the slot and run precise routes and dominate in pass protection should thrust them into the same stratosphere we see top pass catchers routinely reach.
"If Jarvis Landry is a $16 million-a-year player, then why isn't Le'Veon Bell?" is a question an agent recently posed to me, with Landry securing that money from the Browns. My initial response was that Bell quite possibly would be if the Steelers shopped him as the Dolphins did Landry -- who also began this offseason with a franchise tag before being dealt to the Browns -- but that teams have already set their budgets and doled out their massive deals back in March. If the Steelers were going to go that route -- not that they ever entertained it, as they had already budgeted Bell on the tag in 2018 and are in Super Bowl or bust mode, effectively -- those trade talks would have been a February/March matter, not June.
But the agent made several salient points. "Landry wins in the slot; Bell can do that too and a lot more," he noted. I agree -- if Bell got the volume of slot targets Landry does, he could catch 100 balls and easily average the 10 yards per catch Landry does. But he is also dominant running between the tackles and on the perimeter so he would not be utilized in that manner. But is Bell a better football player than Landy? Of course. Absolutely. I don't who could argue to the contrary.
And if Bell didn't have a history of missing critical games due to injury and if he didn't have a 2016 suspension for substance abuse then I believe he would in fact be the perfect candidate to raise the bar for all at his position. And if he happened to be playing for a team that traditionally enjoys a surplus of cap space and payroll flexibility and that was desperate for any and all star power, then the odds of that occurring might be greater. But given the totality of this situation, I don't see him securing upwards of $50 million guaranteed in the first three years of a new deal under the current conditions, though I couldn't bet against him landing that as an unrestricted free agent next March. It certainly worked out for Kirk Cousins and, barring injury or off-field issue, I don't know why it wouldn't do the same for Bell as a 27-year-old in 2019.
That timing might not be ideal for guys like David Johnson and Todd Gurley, of course, who could be somewhat immediate benefactors of a Bell mega-contract this summer. But you have to believe the tide will eventually turn and a few backs will be back among the game's highest-paid players again. It may take one or two of them hitting the market -- and there is always pressure on backs to sign extensions well before that due to the rigors of the position and the high risk of injury -- but the rare players who can carry a team's ground game and who are skilled enough to run the passing game through as well deserve to have their day once more.
The only question is, how much longer will it take?
Earl Thomas trade still makes sense
The Earl Thomas minicamp boycott shouldn't come as a surprise. As I reported way back in the spring, it was clear around the league that Thomas was looking for a big extension as part of any possible trade, with other teams figuring his number was around $12 million a year.
And with one year and $10 million left on his deal, and the Seahawks retooling their roster and moving on from the Legion of Boom by and large, I remain among those surprised they didn't take a pick or two for him before the draft and move on. At this point, approaching age 30, Thomas will be looking back at how the franchise rewarded older vets like Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett in the not-too-distant past and looking for his payday.
But the Seahawks are obviously in a little different place now than they were back when they were looking to repeat as Super Bowl champs and going deep in the playoffs five straight years. So, yeah, this was always going to be tricky and had the potential to get a little ugly, and with Thomas hoping there is another $25 million-plus in guarantees out there somewhere, losing out on roughly $85,000 by staying home from minicamp was always going to look like a sound-enough gamble to try to aid his cause long-term.
A trade still makes sense to me. Landing 2019 draft picks won't help the Seahawks at all next season, and in the dead of the NFL offseason there are no trade talks cooking now ... but the phone lines will be in overdrive as we get close to cut-downs to the 53-man rosters, and while teams will be loathe to trade a bounty in return for a safety who they then must pay big time as well, there might be a trade for a young (cheap) player or two whom the Seahawks are high on. There is still plenty of time between now and September for a new market to emerge, especially with injuries inevitable. And few teams are as proactive and willing to listen to anything as the Seahawks,
I wouldn't freak out one way or the other, but ultimately I don't see Seattle paying what the market would bear, and the prospect of a 2020 comp pick can't be that alluring to the Seattle front office. Stay tuned.
Reactions to T.O.'s decision off base
I have tried for the past week to get fired up about Terrell Owens skipping out on the Hall of Fame festivities, and, well, I just can't. I've read plenty of people spewing their anger in print and on the internet and heard more than enough talk-show takes on it. And I understand their position, but I just can't go there.
Owens has always been a tortured soul with a very tough upbringing who has struggled for love and affection and affirmation his entire life. His childhood forced him to grapple with feelings of abandonment early on, and his pain was constant. An upbringing this extreme can color the rest of one's life and influence decisions and attitudes well into adulthood, and Owens was never going to play by everyone's rules all the time.
While most of us may have never previously considered that attending an Hall of Fame enshrinement was an individual choice -- for generations it was assumed as a total no brainer, being the pinnacle of individual accomplishment in team sports -- Owens' decision makes it clear it is just that. The player does not have to be present for the ceremony to take place -- obviously players are routinely enshrined posthumously -- and if this is how Owens wants to be remembered, in part, then I don't see the harm in respecting his decision.
I'm not here to judge why he is doing what he's doing and he's vowed to explain more of his thinking before the events take place next month. I sincerely hope he does. But I honestly believe his decision has revealed more about many of those involved in this often backwards, personal and overly-mysterious process than it does about Owens, who has already been something of an open book if you were paying attention.
The holier-than-though reactions of some voters -- the same men and women who somehow didn't put Owens in for his first two years of eligibility -- should use this as an opportunity to reconsider their process and what all goes into it. The same people who rant and rave that they can only consider a player's on-field exploits when garnering Hall of Fame consideration often aren't playing by their own rules.
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