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Misconceptions Surrounding Le’Veon Bell, Part One: Greed and Loyalty

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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have a unique relationship. With that said, the Steelers’ All-Pro running back is also extremely misunderstood.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell tweeted recently how he is a victim, complaining about how fans view him as a villain.

He’s right.

I read every day here on BTSC, and in other media sources, comments blasting Bell for everything from poor play, to being greedy, to his checkered past. Some aspects of these views have merit, but many others are half-truths or outright falsehoods. Most upsetting are the false narratives spread by other writers and fans on the web. Steeler fans are some of the most voracious and knowledgeable in the NFL. There is no such thing as an offseason for the majority of fans. Hunger for news or opinionated articles drives the fanbase too often to take opinions and assumptions as fact and not for the value of what they actually are — just some writer or commenter’s opinion.

So, it’s time to set things straight: Are fans judging Bell fairly, by his real past and actions on and off the field, or are they judging him according to “what they’ve heard”? Let’s take the misconceptions about the Steelers star one at a time and focus on the money, contract and salary cap aspects.

No. 1: Bell is a greedy player.

It amazed me, once I thought about it, how simple this misconception is to dispel. Think about it like this: After this season, Ryan Shazier will have made $18 million in the NFL. That is more than 99-percent of us will ever make in our lifetimes. Shazier had no choice in what he was going to make this season, or in the first four years of his career, for that matter. Pittsburgh slapped him with the fifth-year option, which meant he could not even test the open market.

Do you feel sorry for Shazier?

Now, what if that were Bell laying on the field clutching his back this season — would you feel pity for him? Would he still be greedy in your eyes?

No. 2: The song and the $15 million man.

What is the main purpose of a rap artist? His job and goal are to entertain, and by entertaining, sell copies of his music, which generate money. Do you really take everything a rapper says at face value? If so, doesn’t that make you look a little naive?

I can get behind the ideas that there are little green men, ghosts and even fortune tellers (OK, I am joking about fortune tellers; that’s going a little too far.). However, I am not ever going to take a mediocre/bad rapper’s lyrics as gospel.

In his song, Bell drops the line, “I’m at the top and if not I’m the closest, Ima need 15 a year and they know this.”

Now, think about the timing.

Bell penned these lyrics right after his troubled 2015 season, which included a three-game suspension and ended with a severely torn MCL which limited him to six games. After a year like that, Pittsburgh obviously was not going to tear up the last year of Bell’s deal when he was making a paltry $1.1 million and the team held the option to franchise tag him or simply let him walk.

Think about the rap again, and now you tell me: Is Bell a fortune teller? Or a just a young dreamer? Or is he simply a guy trying to make a buck?

No. 3: The $17 million quote/rap/rant. (I personally do not even know exactly what to call it. Was he rapping or just talking smack?)

It caused a big fuss a couple of weeks ago when NFL reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala stated in an interview that Bell “wants to be paid exactly like Antonio Brown is paid”. Steeler Nation and the entire NFL went ballistic; everyone was furious. She said it so offhandedly during the interview that it was like the idea was nothing new. Was she quoting a source? In my opinion, no, as she never mentions a source. As an NFL reporter, she would be sensitive to the need for quoting the source if there was one. So what I chalk this up to was a video in 2017 in which Bell responded to Brown after he called him out for not being in camp. You can watch it for yourself here.

Is Bell serious, is he rapping, is just having some fun with AB? All we can do is make our own assumptions. I already know what I think.

No. 4: Bell wants to be paid like a #1 RB and #2 WR, and he is just not worth it.

We have all seen this statement, which is attributed to Bell, via former teammate Ike Taylor. What exactly does this mean? Bell wants to be the highest-paid RB. I believe everyone is on board with that. Currently, the highest-paid RB under contract for 2018 is Jerick McKinnon at $10.5 million. That contract is an outlier because San Francisco is burning through cap money. (The cap hit is the highest year of his contract by a long way.) So instead of using McKinnon’s contract for comparison, I’ll use LeSean McCoy’s 2018 cap figure of $8.95 million instead, even though his contract is three years old and the cap has risen $34 million in that span. Now, let’s figure in what the average No. 2 WR gets paid. Using the contracts of the 33rd through 64th-highest-paid WRs for 2018, the average cap hit is $4.5 million per year. If you were to add McCoy’s cap hit and the average No. 2 WR, the total would be $13.45 million.

So, let’s examine the controversial part of him wanting No. 2 WR money by checking out the stats the average No. 2 WR puts up.

  • Average receiving yards for the 33rd- through 64th- highest-paid WRs (excluding TEs and RBs): 632 yards. Bell: 655 (46th ranked).
  • Average receptions (excluding TEs and RBs): 49.6 yards. Bell: 85.
  • Average yards per reception (excluding TEs and RBs): 12.1 yards. Bell: 7.7.
  • Jarvis Landry, who led all players in receptions, had only 1.1 yards per reception more than Bell.

While Bell does get blown out of the water in terms of yards per reception, he makes it up with a sheer volume of receptions than most #2 WRs simply cannot duplicate.

With those stats and hard facts in mind, you decide: Could Bell deserve #2 WR money in addition to #1 RB pay?

No. 5: Bell threatens to retire or sit out the season than to play under the tag for a second consecutive year.

Come on folks, who actually believed this frustrated bluster? Bell’s not missing out on $900,000 per game, let alone $14.5 million for the entire season.

It is understandable fans are upset having to go through this media circus. No one likes to have the offseason filled with uncertainty. But no one should be overly surprised with this situation and how it is rearing its ugly head again. Just take some of the things that are being thrown out daily with a grain of salt and delve a bit deeper to find the facts. Rappers rap to sell music. Players try to get notoriety to fuel both their egos, and fan bases and journalists jobs are to sell copy by pushing their agendas. Circle July 16 on your calendar. That is the last day the Steelers can work out a long-term deal with Bell. Finally, then the media circus shall cease. OK, that was wishful thinking as it will continue until Bell actually reports the third of September. That is my expectation at least.

Just like most fans, I cannot wrap my head around the amount of money NFL players take home. At the end of the day, it is small chunks of money out of the whole $14 billion pie. I am not one to take songs at face value or a player who is responding to one of his teammates out of frustration. The Steelers see Bell as worth at least $14.5 million per season, otherwise, they never would have franchised tagged Bell for a second time. So, it is actually fair to look at it that Pittsburgh is indeed paying Bell to be the top paid RB and a No. 2 WR because of the gap in pay between Bell and other RBs.

In the second part of this series I will be discussing the off-field issues and past injuries and how the perceptions surrounding them are either wrong or misleading.