Whenever someone breaks from the norms and traditions of a profession, people are quick to react negatively. Such has been the case with Le'Veon Bell, who has chosen to sit out the season rather than play for the Pittsburgh Steelers under a franchise tag that would have paid him $14.5 million this year.
Props to Bell for living life on his terms. The All-Pro running back didn't do anything that violates the collective bargaining agreement, nor did he violate the terms of a contract he never signed. He simply made a business decision to protect himself against the possibility of serious injury -- and the financial loss that could come from it.
This reality was staring us in the face from the moment Bell began sacrificing roughly $850,000 a week by refusing to sign the Steelers' one-year offer. However, we chose to not see it or not believe it. Either way, that's on us, because it was obvious that, unlike in 2017 (when he was hit with the tag for the first time and ended a preseason absence in September), the longer he stayed away, the less likely it was that he would return. The math simply didn't add up.
Even as the Oct. 30 trade deadline approached, people assumed he might sign the contract and seek to be dealt elsewhere. But that was nonsensical for several reasons. One, the CBA would have prohibited him from negotiating a multiyear deal with a new team until the spring, at which time the club could decide to go in another direction. Two, what if the personnel was not as good, or the system fit was not ideal, and he wound up putting out bad tape for the rest of the league, through no fault of his own? And three, what if he got hurt?
So the smart business decision was to sit out the year and likely hit the market as a true free agent in the spring. I say likely because the Steelers could still franchise him a third consecutive year, but the chances of that happening are nonexistent, because the cost would be too prohibitive. The team also could transition tag him, preserving its ability to match any deal he is offered, but a new team likely would structure its deal in such a way that the Steelers would never match it.
What's interesting is how some fans have turned on Bell. I've always found it fascinating how the public is quick to side with owners and teams when it comes to a negotiation involving players. Why is that? Stripped down, I believe they feel players should be grateful for being paid so much money to play a kids' game. I also believe there's a racial component; African-Americans comprise roughly 70 percent of the players, and there is a segment of the population that views them as highly paid field hands who don't deserve what they're getting.
I view Bell as a potential modern-day trailblazer. He is showing players that if they have the financial wherewithal and the personal conviction to stand for what they feel is right from a business standpoint, there is a path to greater rewards. Bell was unwilling to put himself in a position where the Steelers could run him into the ground this year, then discard him in the offseason for the younger James Conner, who is currently starting in Bell's place. Bell also removed the risk of a serious or career-threatening on-field injury from the free-agency equation, something that cannot be said for Seattle safety Earl Thomas (who held out in hopes of getting a new contract from the Seahawks, then was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 4) or New Orleans wideout Dez Bryant (who was waiting on the free-agent market until he signed with the Saints last week, only to be lost to an Achilles tear before playing a game with the team).
Bottom line, ask yourself this: If your employer was offering you a $100,000 contract for 2019, but another company was offering $1 million if you sat out of the workforce until 2020, what would you do? It really isn't more complicated than that.