Devonta Freeman is dancing his way to the bank after signing a new contract extension last Wednesday. Le’Veon Bell, on the other hand, has to be shaking his head in disbelief. Bell has to be thinking, “Why would this two-time Pro Bowl player take the same amount of money LaDainian Tomlinson made in 2004 while the salary cap was $90 million dollars less?”
Is there anyone to blame for the stagnation of running back salaries?
Will Freeman’s deal impact Bell’s aspirations for a big-money, long-term contract?
Now let’s take a trip back five years ago and view the player who may ultimately be responsible for the current state of the RB market.
Shady led the league with 20 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns and 1,624 yards from scrimmage in 2011, and was rewarded with a new five-year contract extension worth $45.6 million. The deal included an $8.5 million signing bonus and $20.675 million guaranteed. His first three years were fully guaranteed. $21 million guaranteed money sounds good, right? Not necessarily. Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson were both making over $10 million at the time in 2012. So, the best young running back chose guaranteed money over making money like his top paid brethren.
McCoy never saw the end of the contract, as he was traded to the Buffalo Bills. The new deal saw McCoy get another five-year deal, this time worth $40 million with $18.25 million guaranteed. This included a $13 million signing bonus. The first season was fully guaranteed, while $2.5 million of the 2016 salary was fully guaranteed. So again, McCoy goes for guaranteed money instead of the big per year money Peterson was still making.
Now back to the present. Let’s take a peek under the hood of Freeman’s contract. The contract extension is worth $41.25 million over five years which includes a $15 million signing bonus locking Freeman up through 2022. It is reported the $22 million comes in the form of guaranteed money. The first three years of the contract are fully guaranteed (only for injury). This means Freeman’s 2017 base salary of $1.3 million is guaranteed. Solid money for an RB but nothing like some of his predecessors made.
Is he a top notch RB?
Does he deserve to be talked about in the same sentence as Bell and David Johnson?
It is debatable; however, he lead all NFL backs with over 3,100 total yards from scrimmage during the 2015-16 season while amassing 28 TDs. All the while splitting time with Tevin Coleman (149 touches in 2016). Will Freeman be viewed as an elite RB? No, probably not until he carves into those touches Coleman gets.
So what does this mean for Bell? Will Bell, and his camp, worry Freeman could not reset the RB market? Is Freeman the highest paid RB because he is just one of the better RBs to get a contract extension since 2015? Is Bell’s agent viewing this as it’s just another RB who took guaranteed money over total contract value?
The reported contract offer Bell received showed the value of Bell compared to the value of Freeman. Also, the guaranteed money and years shows the difference between the Steelers organization and the Falcons (And the majority of the rest of the NFL.). The Bell camp surely sees Freeman going after some guaranteed money and unable to reset the market because he is not among the elite RBs in the NFL, and he isn't deserving of garnering $10-12 million or more. After all, Freeman only had the 7th most yards from scrimmage in 2016 among RBs and barely topped 1,000 yards rushing.
Bell wants what Freeman was unable to land. A long-term deal that pays him Peterson money and guaranteed future years. The Steelers are in the stone ages in regards to offering multiple years guaranteed in their contracts, which is why it seems unlikely the Steelers and Bell find common ground when they get back to the negotiating table after the 2017 season.