The Le'Veon Bell contract has been around much more than Le'eon Bell. Bell refused to play the 2018 season on a second franchise tag — after passing on a long-term contract offering from the Steelers that would have made him the highest-paid running back, but was short on full guarantees . It was an enormous self-bet at a premier player to position that's seen its value gutted at the NFL's cost-controlled rookie-wage scale. Wherever Bell wound up — for whatever the terms — it was bound to be a fascinating case study in NFL bargaining dynamics.
What Bell's contract quest is a question: As things now stand, elite players like Bell pursue bigger should yearly, would they be better off trying to secure as much cash as possible on the front end of any new deal?
There's plenty of evidence to suggest Bell and other stars — as opposed to margin and even above-above average players, who represent a substantial majority of the NFL — might be better off forgoing guarantees in lieu of early cash flow, as counterintuitive as it may seem in a league where so much of the contractual risk tends to fall on the players. It's the great paradox of the entire system: Elite players have the leverage to secure bigger full guarantees, but getting bigger full guarantees requires taking shorter, cheaper deals – and depending on the circumstance that may not always be wise.
A quick review: Bell signed with the Jets for less than the Steelers reportedly offered him, an aggregate. The Steelers were willing to give up to five years and $ 70 million, with reports suggesting the full guarantees ranged anywhere from $ 10 million to $ 20.5 million. Officially, Bell's Jets deal is for max or four years, $ 52.5 million, with incentives and escalators that can push it as high as $ 60.15 million. The full guarantee is $ 27 million, with $ 35 million in injury guarantees. Mind you, that's after Bell gave up the $ 14.5 million he'd earned last year had played on the tag.
Yes, by taking a stand Bell his way into free agency – an opportunity that had been denied to him for six years in a league where the average career spans fewer than three seasons and the position he plays is unforgivingly punishing. Yes, Bell kept himself in the ground of the Steelers for another year, just like he was about to turn 27. Yes, he secured more full guarantee than any non-rookie running back. But Bell also left a lot of money on the table — money he was very, very, very likely to earn the Steelers sacrifice, and money that ironically went straight back into the Steelers' pockets.
Joe Banner, former Eagles and Browns executive, has frequently hammered away at this point on Twitter since Bell and Jets came to terms nearly two weeks ago:
What's obvious is that Bell misread his market. He excels as a rider, a pass catcher, and a pass-blocker, and he wanted to be paid as a positionless player — a common structure in the NBA but a threshold that's never been crossed in the NFL. It just didn't happen.
The Steelers 'offering, according to Sports Illustrated ' s Albert Breer would have paid Bell $ 19.5 million in Year 1, and a total of $ 33 million through Year 2, which is where he would have been in 2019 he had taken it. Instead, he'll earn $ 14 million this year — or $ 19 million less in total through 2019, since he collected nothing last year at sitting out — and a total of $ 27 million through 2020. Bell essentially paid $ 19 million to gain and additional $ 7 million in full guarantees. Pittsburgh, New York, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, USA, Florida, USA, Florida, United States. But according to Jason Fitzgerald, the founder of overthecap.com and the co-author of Crunching Numbers a book about NFL contracts and the salary cap, Bell's $ 19.5 million in Year 1 was effectively ] guaranteed.
"Fitzgerald is not paying anyone $ 10 million to cut him before he steps foot on the field." "And that money's protected the minute he walks in the workout room at the Steelers' facility, protected as soon as training camp opens, it's protected if he gets hurt actually [doing any time kind of team activity]. The real guarantee on that is [$19.5] million, even if it's not written on paper. ”
What came after Year 1 was the huge sticking point, since nothing was guaranteed beyond that, as is standard for the Steelers. But this is where it is important to consider the two other factors Banner seems to be suggesting that Bell misread: [Thesteelers'tendencytopayasubstantialportionofthetotalcontractstheygivetohomegrownplayers;
Ian Whetstone, who analyzes the Steelers' contracts and cap for SteelCityInsider.net, ran the numbers for me. According to Whetstone's research, the Steelers have done significant second contracts for homegrown players since 2002, including three players still active on their second deals. Whetstone defined “homegrown” as a player the Steelers either drafted or first acquired as an undrafted free agent. He defined "significant" as a deal with an average per year (APY) of at least 1.5 percent of the salary cap in the year of signing.
What Whetstone's subset reveals is that the Steelers have a pretty good track record of paying the full amount of a second contract to their homegrown players: a whopping 86 percent of the total value (which would have been $ 60.2 million of Bell's $ 70 million max, though it would have collected $ 45 million just by playing three years on the Steelers') offer), Graphic: Ian Whetstone
Additionally, 23 of those 27 players collected at least $ 10 million. And every one of the deals in the same subset had a full payout through the first two years, as indicated by this chart Whetstone prepared, which indicates the percentage of payouts for all 30 players in their deal's given year:
Which means Bell was almost certain to see $ 33 million from the Steelers over two years, as opposed to the $ 27 million in two-year cash flow he'll now see from the Jets. Precedent even suggests Bell was most likely to collect his Year 2 money even if he had been injured during Year 1: What happened to Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen, whose 2014 season – his first on his new deal – was cut short at injuries . Allen's eventual release only happened after Year 2.
Of course, 30 players over 17 years is an extremely small sample. But it does represent grouping of core players, and Banner's tweet was careful to distinguish "top tier" players as those who are paid more of what they are contractually owed.
Whetstone hasn't run the numbers for everybody team – have a similar track record of paying most of what they contracted to players they develop and that they would rank 1-2-3 in the NFL in this regard, in some particular order. “But I think that almost all teams pay out a greater portion of their homegrown contracts than their free agent contracts; In that regard, I wouldn't call it unique, ”Whetstone told me via email.
Likewise, Whetstone explained, the Steelers, Bengals, and Packers "almost certainly" tend to guarantee the lowest percentage of their contracts, "which flies in the face of the common understanding of the importance of guarantees. I very much think that the importance of guarantees is overstated, especially in that it is often stated without ANY regard for ANY other factors; but I think that there are a couple of organic factors that explain why this contradiction occurs among these three teams. ”
All three teams tend to follow their business lieu of guarantees, which allow players to collect a substantial portion of the total even if the team pulls the plug before the deal expires.
Whetstone went on to suggest that there too may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy at work here: Agents know teams like the Steelers, Packers, and Bengals tend to pay more of what's contracted, so those are the type of deals agents to negotiate for. Also, it should be noted that the NFL's archaic "fully funded rule," which mandates any fully guaranteed money is placed in the time of signing, has long provided some teams with an excuse against committing to guarantees. The rule dates to a time when some league owners had genuine cash flow problems. But thats, uh, not so much of an issue in today's $ 14 billion NFL.
Every year as free agency comes and goes, deep dives into NFL contracts often focus on reported (max) numbers vs. guarantees, with a more recent emphasis on full (i.e., true) guarantees. But very little attention is paid to the sort of deals teams give their own players before they hit free agency. A recent analysis of free agent contracts signed between 2011 and 2016 by Danny Heifetz of The Ringer showed that five-year contracts were more likely to end after one year (14.7 percent) than the full five (13.7 percent). And of the 648 multi -year deals Heifetz studied, the highest percentage (36.9) lasted two years. But most of these players were not stars: of the more than 80 players to get one year into a deal of three or more years, just 11 more than $ 10 million, and only one had APY that exceeded $ 10 million. Also, seven teams — Steelers, Bengals, and Packers, along with the Giants, Panthers, 49ers, and Rams — did not cut a single player one year into a multi-year deal. And Heifetz's research did not include contract extensions or players who had re-signed with a team without hitting free agency.
It would be fascinating to see the data on what every other team pays its homegrown players on second contracts. But even without it, Fitzgerald couldn't think of a recent example of a player anywhere in the NFL who was cut one year into any kid or megadeal, either because of injury or poor performance.
“ Most of the time it's like you're trying to get something out of your investments, ”Fitzgerald said. "Teams are notorious for chasing sunk costs."
Fitzgerald said Bell would have been better off sitting out in 2017, the first time the Steelers tagged him. There was less money ($ 12.1 million) to pass on, for one thing. But it also would have put more pressure on the Steelers. The tag doesnâ € ™ t prevent other teams from making contract offers to tagged players, but by setting the compensation at two first-round picks, it effectively makes the cost too prohibitive. But if a player sits on the tag, Fitzgerald explained, the following year if the player is tagged again if a first and a third round pick. That might have generated some interest last offseason, which could have forced the Steelers hand in some way. But maybe Bell had motivations that went beyond the purely financial. In a recent interview with SI 's Jenny Vrentas, Bell took direct shots at the Steelers and at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It is hard to know much about his decision to sit last year was about money and how much was about to spare for the Steelers.
Of course, there is no contractual bond for a team to honor what is not guaranteed. Which is the point of seeking guarantees, obviously. Remember: Bell had the first experience of watching one of his Steelers teammates, linebacker Ryan Shazier, sustaining a spinal injury that was more than likely ended his career. At the time of his injury, Shazier had an injury guarantee to protect him because of the fifth-year option the Steelers had already picked up in his rookie deal, a structure that's standard for all first-round picks, league-wide. As Bell told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler:
At the end of the day, I wanted to go where it would make me happy and have the guaranteed money, no matter what happens to me. I saw what happened to Ryan Shazier, and I saw that with my own eyes. I have to protect myself. The owners are protecting themselves, I have to do the same thing. Any other team and it would have been completely fine. But the way [the Steelers] Also, if Kevin Clark or The Ringer recently wrote, "The gap in cap hits between a star who re-signs. with his team and above-average player who happens to hit free agency is almost nonexistent. ”And:
Which would explain why a star like Bell at least wanted the opportunity to taste free agency, no matter what the steelers were offering him. The rookie pay scale, which incentivizes teams to pursue younger, cheaper players – particularly at running back, where there is a surplus of younger, cheaper talent – worked in a concert with the franchise tag to keep that from happening. tweet with an agent who has negotiated a second contract for a prominent running back and asked if it was better for players to seek more front-loaded money in lieu of guarantees.
"Yes and no," the agent replied. That idea is "not wrong, but at the same time what will happen is if we get to guaranteed contracts the salaries will rise on top of it."