Before I get to the heart of this article, I want to make one thing clear. I am not a conspiracy nut. I do not think Big Brother is out to get us, and watching every move. I do not think aliens are living among us. And I do not think that the moon is hollow. But I believe Tom Pelissero’s tweet about Le'veon Bell’s contract is incorrect. I have two logical reasons for thinking this: His numbers just seem off, and he is an unlikely source to break such news.
There has been a lot of speculation about this here at BTSC -- and a lot of anger, too, almost exclusively aimed at Bell. So what does this tell us? It tells us, first off, that the supposed contract leaks (I say “leaks” because in his tweet, Pelissero mentions “sources,” and leaks always have sources) didn’t come from Bell’s camp. If the deal is to be taken at face value, the report would have to come from the Steelers’ side. It makes sense for the Steelers to release this information, right? So multiple Steelers officials must have confirmed the contract details -- to get the public opinion on their side and put pressure on the Bell camp.
Well, no. Actually, this would only make sense if the information had been released prior to the deadline for signing a long-term deal. Releasing it after the deal is done does no good. At this point, Bell and Pittsburgh can’t hash out a new contract until after the 2017 season. Why poke the bear? The other flaw with the idea of the Steelers leaking the info is that it would require the approval of GM Kevin Colbert to throw the Steelers’ two-time All-Pro RB under the bus. Or did the supposed approval come from one of the Rooneys at the top of the organization? I would accept that my dog is an alien from Alpha Centauri before I could fathom that a Rooney would leak such info. Could the leak come from someone else in the organization without the permission of Colbert or the Rooneys? Well, no one has been fired, so the logical conclusion would be no.
In 2016, the Steelers were negotiating with 10-year veteran LB Lawrence Timmons on a contract extension. Neither side ever leaked info on what was being offered. Pittsburgh never did because they respect their players. Timmons didn’t because he loves the organization and realized the negotiations were just business.
The second issue I have with the offer is that the numbers are quirky and include very little actual info. Consider this: Bruce Allen, president of the Washington Redskins, came out with a statement after the failed negotiations with Kirk Cousins. Allen laid out some details about the offer with the guaranteed money being offered. Now, I am absolutely not comparing the Steelers to the dysfunctional franchise known as the Redskins, but where is the similar info on that important guaranteed money in Pelissero’s tweet? Exclusive access supposedly was granted, yet he offers no solid, crucial info like guaranteed money or the signing bonus? In today's NFL, guaranteed money is as important as the overall money and lifespan of the contract. Yet this critical information is oddly missing. Did Pelissero forget to add it? Did he forget to ask his not one source, but multiple sources? Did select portions of his memory get wiped by Big Brother or the New World Order?
I dislike making assumptions, so let’s get down to hard numbers on the contract offer: $30 million in the first two years and $42 million total after three years. Going by those numbers, though, Bell would average $15 million per season for the first two years, $12 million in the third season and then average just $9 million the last two. NFL teams seek cap relief in the first few years of a contract. They don’t blow them up early and see them pay less later. Under the contract Pelissero tweeted about, Pitt would bring Bell’s cap figure down in 2017 only to have it balloon in 2018 and 2019. That makes no sense.
Let’s take a hypothetical look at the structure of such a contract, assuming Bell gets an $18 million signing bonus. This may be on the high side, but it doesn’t change the contract numbers much no matter how you crunch them. Remember, all signing bonuses prorate over the life of the deal.
2017 -- $4 million base salary and a $3.6 million prorated signing bonus.
2018 -- $8 million base salary and a $3.6 million prorated signing bonus.
Well, that gets us to our figure of $30 million over the first two seasons. It gives us cap relief this year to extend some of our current players. But it really hurts our cap space in 2018, when cap space is tenuous at best. Because this contract is front-end loaded, it cuts Pitt’s $32.5 million available cap space in 2018 to $21 million. In that scenario, how will Colbert fit in Stephon Tuitt, Alejandro Villanueva, Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry, not to mention a full draft class that will cost at least $5.5 million, with many other expenses not included?
Let’s continue. 2019 sees a number that is static and can not change. $12 million due to what was listed in the tweet.
2019 -- $12 million base salary and a $3.6 million prorated signing bonus.
Now for the last two seasons, which are just as easy to map out as the 2019 season.
2020 -- $9 million base salary and a $3.6 million prorated signing bonus.
2021 -- $9 million base salary and a $3.6 million prorated signing bonus.
Not included in the above deal are roster bonuses, and they absolutely would be in there for insurance against another suspension or a devastating injury. But for this exercise, they don’t matter -- only the year-to-year figures do.
What do you Steeler fans see? Well, you see a contract that has two years with a lot of up-front money in it as base salary. For the 2019 season, the base salary is $12 million. While one of the last two years may have a greater amount of base salary in it, the other one would be substantially smaller. In the top 10 Steeler salaries, only Ben Roethlisberger has a contract that has a year with a higher salary near the beginning instead of at the end. Would the Steelers give Bell up-front money like they did Big Ben in regards to a base salary? I would sooner believe my 88-year-old neighbor took part in the JFK assassination.
How about we get all wild and crazy and agree to everything above at face value? Tom Pelissero just landed a big gig on July 1 with NFL Network and NFL.com and has a gig on Sirius radio. He spent four years with USA Today, according to the bio on his website. Pelissero is a local guy with ties to the Steelers, so he must be plugged in, right?
Wrong. Mr. Pelissero actually has ties with the Minnesota Vikings via KFAN and was connected to the Green Bay Packers while working at the Green Gay Post-Gazette. He still lives outside of Minneapolis.
Continuing on this line of thought, where were Ike Taylor, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, Ray Fittipaldo and Jeremy Fowler, who break a ton of Steeler news? Oh, and Ed Bouchette -- I did not leave him out; I just saved him for last. While I might take him to task for his weekly chat sessions (which have nothing to do with his reporting), he is the most plugged-in reporter out there, bar none! Bouchette has been the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s main Steelers beat writer since 1985. He’s broken many of the biggest Steelers stories over the years -- but he’s left out of the loop altogether on something as important as this? Was he too busy breaking into Area 51 to peek at the Roswell aliens to be bothered with breaking the news of Bell’s contract?
I honestly do not know who fed Pelissero his info, but the info he was fed was incorrect -- and out of all the people it could have been leaked to, why him? I am skeptical about all of this because not one other source has corroborated the contract details. Others have only passed it along. The numbers just do not look like a typical Steeler contract offer. Pitt is not a normal NFL team when it comes to contracts; the Black and Gold stick to a contract structure they’ve used for decades.
So, you see, while I am positive that the four screws that are implanted in my knee weren’t put there by aliens, I can not corroborate that Tom Pelissero’s info didn’t come from little green men.