2018 NFL CONTRACT PROJECTION: Free Agent RB Le’Veon Bell

Le’Veon Bell Measurables

Height: 6-1
Weight: 225
Age: 26
Experience: 5 seasons
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent, 2017 Franchise Tag ($12.12 million)
3-Time Pro Bowler, 2-Time 1st-Team All-Pro

Pittsburgh Steelers Projected Cap Space (Top 51): $2.97M (per Over The Cap)

Le’Veon Bell Profile

Once upon a time, workhorse running backs were the most coveted piece of an offense. Those days have faded of late, but Le’Veon Bell is a three-down back with the versatility to line up anywhere on the field.

He’s the daunting combination of size, strength, and speed that interrupts sleep patterns of defensive coordinators. “Juice” possesses elite vision and his patience goes unmatched at the position. Bell blends the power to go through defenders with the agility and feet to make them miss.

Bell’s versatility is vital to Pittsburgh’s offensive attack. Bell averages 5.0 receptions per game in his career. Since 2013, this is more than Rob Gronkowski (4.9), Dez Bryant (4.7), T.Y. Hilton (4.8) and Doug Baldwin (4.5), while the 85 passes he caught this season were more than A.J. Green and Mike Evans.

Bell’s production is undeniable. He’s reached 1,800+ scrimmage yards in three of his five NFL seasons, hitting 1,884 in 12 games in 2016. Bell averages more scrimmage yards per game (129.0) in his first five seasons than any player in NFL history. Barry. Emmitt. Sweetness. Dickerson. Peterson. All of them.

The only blemish on his resume: availability—-football’s most important ability. He’s missed 10 games due to injury and six due to suspension in his career.

Le’Veon Bell Production

Season G Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Scrim Yds Scrim Yds/G Scrim TD
2013 13 244 860 3.52 8 45 399 0 1259 96.8 8
2014 16 290 1361 4.69 8 83 854 3 2215 138.4 11
2015 6 113 556 4.92 3 24 136 0 692 115.3 3
2016 12 261 1268 4.86 7 75 616 2 1884 157 9
2017 15 321 1291 4.02 9 85 655 2 1946 129.7 11
Totals 62 1229 5336 4.34 35 312 2660 7 7996 129 42

Running Back Market

The running back market today runs barren compared to the glory days of Adrian Peterson having the 6th-largest contract in the NFL in 2011.

Bell will be paid substantially more than DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy were in their previous deal or the $8.25 million per year Devonta Freeman—the highest paid back in the league sans Bell.

Player Comparables: MIN Adrian Peterson (2015), PHI DeMarco Murray (2015), BUF LeSean McCoy (2015)

Contract Comparison

Bell’s production warrants compensation beyond the almost $11 million average. He wants to be compensate near Adrian Peterson 2018 adjusted annual salary.

Player Year Age Years Total APY GTD Full GTD 2018 APY
Adrian Peterson 2015 30 3 $42.0M $14.0M $20.0M $15.4M $16.1M
DeMarco Murray 2015 27 5 $40.0M $8.0M $21.0M $18.0M $9.2M
LeSean McCoy 2015 27 5 $40.1M $8.0M $26.6M $18.3M $9.2M
Averages 28 4  $40.7M  $10.0M  $22.5M  $17.2M  $11.4M

Contract information from OverTheCap.com

2018 Cap Adjusted Annual Salary: $10.79M

Statistical Comparison (Two Year Averages Before Deal)

To put the 34.2 scrimmage yards per game that separate Bell from the comparables: it’s more than Jimmy Graham or Jordy Nelson averaged this season. This added value in the passing game is one of the major premises of Bell’s argument to be paid as a RB1 & WR2. He’s had most receptions of any Steelers player not named Antonio Brown in three of the last four seasons.

Player Seasons Car/G Rush YPG YPC Rush TD/G Scrim YPG TD/G
Adrian Peterson 2013* 19.9 90.4 4.5 0.7 102.6 0.8
DeMarco Murray 2013-14 20.3 98.9 4.9 0.7 124.4 0.8
LeSean McCoy 2013-14 19.6 91.4 4.7 0.4 113.1 0.5
Averages   15.0 70.2 3.5 0.5 85.0 0.5
Le’Veon Bell 2016-2017 21.6 94.8 4.4 0.6 141.9 0.7

*Not including 2014: Peterson missed 15 games on Commissioner’s Exempt List

Leverage

If the Steelers plan to play the franchise tag game again, they’ll have to pay Bell a 120-percent increase on his 2017 salary ($14.54 million). The tag limits Bell’s mobility, while Murray (unrestricted free agent) and McCoy (trade) each had more leverage than Bell. However, Bell’s production and skillset far outweigh the before-mentioned situations.

A third tag aver 2018 won’t happen. Luckily for Bell, he’ll be just 27 after next season—in line for the big extension he covets.

Salary Floor: $12-13 million per year

Bell rejected a 5-year deal worth $12 million per season last summer, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, so it’s doubtful he decides to take any less than that with a $14.5 million franchise tag staring at him.

Salary Ceiling: $16 million per year

On the open market, Bell would get his $16 million. With Pittsburgh, it’s hard to imagine he’ll even get to $15 million a season.

Contract Projection

Setting the running back market is a foregone conclusion for Bell. How far beyond it he can go is the real question. On the open market, a team would be willing to pay the $15-17 million a year he desires.

Staying in Pittsburgh robs him of that chance, but whether by franchise tag or extension, Bell will be the highest-paid running in the NFL come fall.

Bell getting as much as he can will allow other running backs, such as Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson, to argue for contracts similar to those of running backs past.

5 years, $70 million; $14 million APY, $25 million in full guarantees

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