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Saunders: Steelers Should Thank Le’Veon Bell for Strong Offseason

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Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Jets RB Le'Veon Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers should send former running back Le’Veon Bell a note of support for his upcoming celebrity boxing bout with fellow ex-NFLer Adrian Peterson next month, because Bell’s decision to turn down the Steelers’ long-term contract offer in 2018 is one of the big reasons the Steelers have been able to have the productive offseason they’ve had.

After Bell playing under the franchise tag for the 2017 season, the Steelers tagged him once again for 2018, but were still attempting to work out a long-term deal with the star running back. The Steelers’ last, best offer was a $70 million contract over five years that would have paid Bell an average of $14 million annually.

Given the way that contract are typically back-loaded and the Steelers’ propensity to restructure deals, it’s not hard to envision Bell counting for $20 million against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2022 if he’d taken the deal.

Instead, Bell sat out the 2018 season, didn’t earn a dime, and has never been the same player. He rushed for 789 yards and three touchdowns with the Jets in 2019 and never even got close to replicating that figure with four teams over the last two seasons. Now, he’s boxing. 

Imagine the Steelers’ offseason with $20 million less in salary cap space. Take away Myles Jack ($4.75m), James Daniels ($4.17m), Mitch Trubisky ($3.67m), Mason Cole ($2.56m), Levi Wallace ($2.52m) — almost the Steelers entire class of free agent signings — and it doesn’t even get the job done.

The Steelers just got out from under the yoke of Ben Roethlisberger’s cap hit. A double whammy from Bell would have prevented the quick rebuild that appears to be taking shape.

Something like “Good luck on your fight, champ, and we appreciate everything you did for us” should be appropriate.

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