The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a difficult hand in 2015 with a long list of injuries to key players on the team. One of those players who was lost for the season was All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell. In the team's Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals Bell was tackled by Vontaze Burfict, tearing his MCL and doing other damage to his knee, ending his season.
Bell was coming off a record-breaking 2014 season where his statistics and versatility were being compared to players like Walter Payton, but a hyper-extended knee in Week 17 of that season ended his year early. 2015 got off to a rocky start with him serving a suspension to start the year, and then the knee injury which saw him forced to watch DeAngelo Williams take over the running back duties in his stead.
Bell has one year left on his rookie contract, where he will earn $966,900 in the 2016 season. In 2017, Bell would be a free agent and free to take his talents elsewhere, if he so desired. The Steelers would like to keep Bell in black and gold for the long-term, and when Art Rooney II met with beat writers for an exclusive interview, he didn't rule out the possibility of extending Bell's current deal before he begins a contract season.
ARII: "We feel like Le'Veon will still be a great player and hopefully the injury will be something he recovers from completly."— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) January 28, 2016
ARII "We hope (26) future is here. Whether we address the contract situation now or later is something we still have to evaluate...."— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) January 28, 2016
ARII "(26) is somebody we would like to continue to have on the team for the long run."— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) January 28, 2016
The Steelers might be wise to address his contract now, rather than later, since his stock might never be lower, considering how his past two seasons have ended. The Steelers clearly believe Bell isn't going to be hindered by his knee injuries the past two years, but entering this season could be the best time for the Steelers to get to the negotiating table to try and lock up Bell for the long-term, without breaking the bank.
However, negotiations are a two-way street, and Bell very well could turn his nose up on any low-ball deal the Steelers might offer before the 2016 season, essentially gambling on himself in 2017. The Steelers will hope to avoid this situation, and getting to the drawing board with Bell's representatives will be the first step to keeping Bell in a black and gold uniform for many years to come.