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Free agent market for Le’Veon Bell might not be as lucrative as he had hoped

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Initial projections suggest Le’Veon Bell could struggle to find a contract worth much more than the one the Steelers last offered him when he hits free agency in 2019.

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

When Le’Veon Bell turned down an offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers rumored to be worth around $70 million with effective guarantees of $33 million over the first two years of a five-year deal, he did so under the belief that a much bigger pay day was out there waiting for him. However, if the initial contract projections from salary cap expert Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com are accurate, the Steelers’ star running back might struggle to find the huge deal he is looking for after all.

In a feature published by Pro Football Focus, Fitzgerald shared his thoughts about the sort of contract Bell could expect to find on the open market, coming up with a number which is barely an improvement on the one Pittsburgh offered in 2018.

“After sitting out all of 2018, veteran running back Le’Veon Bell will return to the NFL after resetting the market with his contract. He earned 71.0-plus overall grades in all five seasons he’s played in the NFL, including a career-high 89.7 mark in 2015.

From Jason:

“Bell comes with all kinds of red flags. He has had past injuries. He has had off the field suspensions. Nobody knows what kind of shape he is in. He has a lot of miles on his tires from his use in Pittsburgh. But he is dynamic and the best offensive talent that will be available this year. Given the amount of cap space a few teams have this year and how desperate those teams may be expecting someone to match his price but with a back-loaded contract to give the team some added protection.”

“Projection: Four years, $60 million, $33 million GTD”

Pro Football Focus

Given that the four-year deal signed by Todd Gurley last year was worth $57.5 million and included $21.95 million fully guaranteed, there can be no dispute that such a deal would make Bell the highest paid player at his position in the league, but by barely enough to have warranted rejecting the Steelers last offer.

Sitting out an entire season just to earn an extra $1 million more a year makes little sense when you consider that Bell walked away from $14.544 million in 2018 under the terms of the franchise tag. Money he will have difficulty earning back in the long-term if $60 million over four years is the best he can do on the open market.

While many will point to the level of guarantees as the most important thing, no team in the league will be offering Bell a fully guaranteed contract over the length of the deal. The best he is likely to find being something similar to the rolling structure in Gurley’s new contract. However, with veteran players on multi-year deals historically seeing 83-percent of their total contracted value from Pittsburgh since 2002, as per Steelers salary cap specialist Ian Whetstone, the team was almost certain to honor most of the deal. As Whetstone notes, of the 397 contracts given out since 2002, 309 of those players have received 100-percent of the deal.

Thankfully, unless Pittsburgh decides to use the transition tag on him in the coming weeks, how much Bell gets paid will be a topic for another fan base to discuss soon enough.