Free Agency Debacle
The NFL’s free-agency period begins next week, but it isn’t quite so free for a few players and it will awfully expensive for at least one of the teams.
Teams can designate one member as their franchise player, which effectively binds the player to them. Other clubs can make an offer, but the price of signing the player away – in addition to salary and bonus – is two No. 1 draft picks.
Five players got the franchise tag and one the transition tag (slightly less onerous, but restrictive). The franchise offer equals the average pay of the top five players and is fully guaranteed.
Which brings us to Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back. Bell got the tag from the Steelers last year and discussions about a long-term deal broke down. So he skipped training camp, showed up shortly before the season opened to sign, and made a little more than $12 million, most of any running back.
As he was tagged last year, so he is tagged again. But because it is a repeat of the tag, he automatically gets a 20 percent raise. So he’s now up there around $14.5 million and (surprise!) he’s terribly unhappy. He’s again considering skipping camp, or not showing up at all until Week 10 of the regular season (the final deadline to sign for the season). He and the team can negotiate until mid-July on a multi-year deal.
Running backs generally have a shorter shelf life than players at other positions. Bell, 26, has played a full season only once in five years.
Between rushing attempts and receptions, he had 406 touches last year, and that’s a big number.
His value to the club is not in doubt. His estimation of his self-worth is his business. But if he signs the offer and plays this year, he’ll have earned nearly $27 million in two years, an extraordinary total at his position.
He wants a long-term deal at about $14.5 million a year with presumably a large chunk up front, but running backs are usually a bit past well done at 30. That’s not smart business for the Steelers.
He may just have to be unhappy while he cashes his checks this season. The multiplicity of zeroes should console him a bit.
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