Le’Veon Bell Turned Down a Whopping $70 Million

Star running back Le'Veon Bell reportedly turned down a $70 million contract offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hours before the deadline for new contract negotiations, the Steelers made the offer of $70 million over five years, averaging $14 million per season. The contract would have been the largest multi-year contract for any NFL running back.

Bell balked at the offer, considering the $14 million annual value to be outside of his asking price of $17 million annually. Additionally, the Steelers' contract offer included only $33 million in guaranteed money. Bell believes his salary should befit that of an elite offensive weapon instead of a running back.

Bell is Betting on Himself

Bell's decision to reject the Steelers' $70 million offer symbolizes his willingness to bet on himself in free agency after this upcoming season. Such a proposition is risky in an intensely physical sport like the NFL, where injuries are abundant.

Inquiring NFL teams will have to decide whether they think Bell is worth more than twice the amount of the NFL's next highest-paid running back, the Falcons' Devonta Freeman, at $8.25 million. As Freeman's contract shows, the running back position is not one that typically results in lucrative contracts. Even if Bell repeats his successful past season, it's far from a guarantee that any team will be willing to match Bell's $17 million annual wish.

The Running Back Market

The market in general for running backs is a primary reason why some are questioning Bell's decision. The Steelers' $14 million annual offer would have made Bell the NFL's highest-paid running back by nearly $6 million, solidifying that the team believes he is the NFL's best at the position.

To some, it's surprising that a player at any position in sports would turn down a contract offer that makes them the world's highest-paid athlete at their position. To Le'Veon Bell, it's an opportunity to show he's worth the $17 million annually he's asking for, and potentially even more.

Reactions From Fellow Running Backs

The Bell contract situation is attracting attention from other talented NFL running backs. The Rams' Todd Gurley, one of the league's premier running backs, expressed appreciation in response to Bell's efforts to advance the market for running backs. Gurley wants Bell to get a long-term deal with substantial pay.

"He's playing on the tag for the second time, which is not bad at all, but you know you just want that security," Gurley says. "It's definitely a sad situation for a guy to be a top-three back, since he's came into the league and put in the work and can't even get the money that he deserves. Definitely a sad situation."

Running backs like Gurley and Bell likely take umbrage with the fact that other positions in the NFL are experiencing increases in salary. Wide receiver, for example, is seeing its market rise. Gurley's teammate Brandin Cooks is now receiving $16.2 million annually on his new contract. Cooks is a good player, though certainly there are running backs who make just as much of an impact in the offense.

Running Back Salaries on a Decline

It's worth noting that only four running backs in the NFL are on long-term contracts paying more than $7 million per season, with one being Giants rookie Saquon Barkley. Comparatively, 28 receivers and 11 tight ends exceed that $7 million annual threshold.

NFL teams seem intent on valuing running backs as a replaceable commodity, deciding to spend resources on other positions. It's worrying to running backs that it's a downward trend, considering Adrian Peterson signed a contract extension in 2011 that averaged $14.2 million annually, a value of around $21 million today.

Le'Veon Bell's next offseason will have a decisive factor in determining the future market for running backs. Fans and players alike will be watching closely.

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