Before you think I either left my mind in Indianapolis or lost it somewhere on my way home from the combine, understand what I think about Le’Veon Bell: I think he’s great. If you give me one running back for one game, I take Bell over the rest. He’s the state-of-the-art back at being patient and picking the right hole, and there’s no three-down back close to him in football right now because of his ability to split wide or run routes from the slot. In another life, he’d have been an NFL wideout.
What’s not to love? He’s 26. He’s got at least four prime seasons left. Pay the man!
But I would not pay the man $14 million a year on a long-term deal. I am worried the Steelers won’t be able to buy in free agency because of how much they just committed on the franchise tag to Bell (assuming he signs the tag).
This is not about the fact that the NFL is not a running back league right now. Backs can be dominant, and they can still be the best and most valuable player on their offensive units. Todd Gurley is. Ezekiel Elliott is. Leonard Fournette probably is. And that’s it. But this is what I worry about in making Bell a long-term jillionaire (say, four years, $72 million, with him taking up about 10 percent of the Steelers’ salary cap, on average, in the next four years):
• The Steelers have major needs on defense. With their best defender, linebacker Ryan Shazier, out for at least 2018, the Steelers have to find one or two big defensive threats this offseason. One, surely, can come in the draft; GM Kevin Colbert made a brilliant first-round pick in T.J. Watt last year. But where will the impact come from, particularly with the Steelers so snug against the cap? They had $5 million in cap space before tagging Bell this week. So they’re already going to have to trim contracts to address defensive needs. Oh, and there are defensive needs. In the five games after Shazier was lost with a spinal injury, Pittsburgh gave up 38, 27, 6, 24 and 42 points
• Employing big-time running backs doesn’t equate to winning Super Bowls. Among the past eight Super Bowl winners, one—Seattle, Super Bowl 48, Marshawn Lynch—has had a first-round, big-star running back on the team. In the past three Super Bowls, the winning team’s primary backs (C.J. Anderson, Dion Lewis/James White, LeGarrette Blount/Jay Ajayi) entered the NFL as, in order, an undrafted free agent, a fifth-round pick, fourth-round pick, undrafted, a fifth-round pick.
• The running back market doesn’t support the $14.5 million cap number. The next-highest running-back cap hit, per Spotrac, is LeSean McCoy at $8.95 million.
No one disputes the greatness of Bell. But at this place, at this time, the Steelers need impact defensive players more than they need a long-term commitment to a great back.
Now for your email...
The "will he" or '’won't he" about Rob Gronkowski’s future has been topic number one in Boston. My thought is that Gronk will play next year, but is looking to move on from New England and get a big pay day. I have four teams that would be logical fits for him: Miami, Oakland, San Francisco and the Rams. Miami is off the list for obvious reasons. The Rams—what do they have have of current trade value? Oakland would be interesting with Jon Gruden and giving them a marquee player for Vegas. However, San Francisco would be the best place, giving Garoppolo a huge and familiar target as he takes over as the face of the franchise. What would be the trade value of the best TE in league for 2-3 years?
—Don, Mansfield, Mass.
You’ve made think a lot, Don. Thanks for that. First, let me say that I don’t think if I were a team looking to trade for Gronkowski that I’d spend all that much. Why? You could be buying a one-year rental. Gronkowski, even though he’s outplayed his contract, has made a lot of money playing football, and I’m sure he’s thinking about quality of life at 50 and 60. But secondly, I absolutely agree with you. If the Niners had Gronkowski for, say, the next two seasons, that would be a sweet combination with Garoppolo, and not only because he already knows Gronkowski well. I would love to see Kyle Shanahan’s imagination in figuring out how to free Gronkowski to be even a bigger factor than he’s been to this point. I would propose this if I were Niners GM John Lynch: a low second-round pick this year (the Niners own the 59th overall pick) and a conditional pick in 2019 or 2020 if Gronkowski plays longer than one year. I know a two is an awful lot for one year, but Gronkowski could be the difference in a wild-card berth in 2018 and a playoff trip deep into January.
ANOTHER INDY BEER REC
Always enjoy reading MMQB. If you ever have the opportunity to go a little way north or south of downtown Indy, try a place called Books & Brews. Their home brews all have literary names, and you can purchase or donate books there in addition to enjoying local musicians, trivia nights, movie nights, and bingo. Great place!
—Doug S., Zionsville, Ind.
Bingo? BINGO! I’m there.
ON JOSH ROSEN, AND QUARTERBACK AFFLUENCE
I’m a former neighbor of Nick Foles, and he grew up affluent. (His dad sold his restaurant chain in 2011 for many millions.) Nick was set before he even made it to college. His dad never spoiled him. He is nice, but also tough and hard working. Josh Rosen looks physically like he won’t last long in the NFL, but hey, look at Drew Brees and Joe Montana. Affluence has nothing to do with it.
Thanks for writing, L. I left Indy a little distressed, quite frankly, at what I considered a whisper campaign against Rosen. The combination of his family, the fact that he’s a little bit of a wise-ass, and his apparent liberal bent turned off a bunch of NFL people. That’s all unimportant in football, assuming that he’ll work hard and be a team guy. I have heard nothing to suggest he’ll be an island or a selfish jerk.
THANKS FOR KIND WORDS ON JACK HAMILTON
Mr. Peter King, my sincere thank you for your kind words in today’s MMQB about Jack Hamilton. I am related to him. Of course his pitch that hit Tony Conigliaro followed him but sure did not define him. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years with your writing and insights on life outside sports. To my surprise this morning those words were about Jack. From all my family, many thanks.
—David H., Knoxville, Iowa
David, I have to tell you a story. The reason that Jack Hamilton’s name always stuck with me, from the age of 10 (I grew up a Red Sox fan in northern Connecticut) to when I saw he died, is this: Hamilton hit Conigliaro on the night of Aug. 18, 1967. The afternoon of Aug. 19, 1967, was one of two days I spent that magical season in Fenway Park, making the 90-mile drive from my little Connecticut town to Fenway to see the Angels-Red Sox day game. Maybe 15 minutes before the game, the Angels pitchers who’d be in the bullpen that day popped out of the dugout and began the 400-foot trek across the field to the bullpen. I stood up with everyone else in the crowded ballpark and booed at the top of my lungs. Everyone else did too. We were booing the guy, Jack Hamilton, who beaned our young hero. Conigliaro was beloved not only because he was a looming Red Sox all-star, but because he was a New Englander himself; he was one of our own. I have never forgotten that day. I’ve felt bad, especially recently, for helping rain down such venom on a guy who surely didn’t mean to hit Conigliaro. There are times as fans you should boo someone. But he didn’t deserve that. I hope he died a happy man.
BRING THE COMBINE SOUTH
I am shocked to say the least because you usually think before you speak and I feel like you didn’t this time around. I am sorry that the combine moving will inconvenience the media people, some team staffs and whatever other “league people” you spoke about. But for me, living in little old Pensacola in Florida’s panhandle, to think that one day the combine will come to say New Orleans/Atlanta/Orlando is exciting. I could actually make the drive and go check it out for myself.
This isn’t about inconveniencing the media people, Steven. This is about a day that starts at 8 a.m., with weights and measurements, and goes till 10:30 p.m., with team meetings with prospects, and about the longest walk in any direction (to a hotel, restaurant, stadium or meeting room) being 18 minutes. Could the NFL move it? Sure. Would it be in the best interests of the football people who need the combine for research and information? No. But I’ve learned the NFL rarely does things for football people.
I GET IT
The draft will be moved, as will the combine. It gives greater access to new fans and grows the sport. I wish all sports remembered that without fans, there is no sport. A-plus to the NFL for adapting and growing and thinking of the "football guys" last.
—Gary H., Dallas
I disagree, Gary, but I appreciate your thought.
JOSH ROSEN’S FUTURE
I personally hope Rosen drops heavily and lands with a good team—not a perennial loser like the Browns. He doesn’t need the money, after reading your article. He can prove his worth on the field.
Wherever he goes, I personally hope he is judged on one thing: his ability to play football.
I DON’T THINK HE EVER SAID THAT
I couldn’t find where you addressed Rosen’s comments about not wanting to go to a team at the top of the draft that won’t win right away. That was the top fodder to explore for this story. That statement identified that he is a rich kid who wants the easy road. As soon as it isn’t the easy road, he won’t know what to do, because he has never set foot on any other road in his life.
Adam Schefter reported last fall that Rosen did not want to play for the Browns. Three things: There is no quote from Rosen saying that. Rosen denies it. His agent denies it. I am not saying they are right and Schefter is wrong. I am simply saying that there is no documented evidence of Rosen saying he does not want to play for the Cleveland Browns.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW
I was going to write you a “Dear John” letter saying good-bye after a long and frustrating season of trying to read your column on my iPhone each week. I was done. But the last few weeks have been great! I can scroll through the whole article without reloads or temporary lockups on the page. What was the most frustrating was the other articles worked fine—it was only your more ad-heavy articles that had problems. So for now I am staying as long as you keep writing.
Tony, I owe a debt of thanks to those who worked so hard to make MMQB so readable, led by Ben Eagle of the SIteam, and Ryan Hunt and Mark McClusky for pushing the envelope to make it happen quicker than I thought it would, and Mark Mravic of The MMQBfor his consistent work on it, and for the overall push from our big boss, Chris Stone of the magazine. He made it a priority and smart, responsible people made it happen.
ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IS ALSO TO BLAME
Peter rails against the proliferation of guns in our society, but I remember his columns when he would rave about the latest episode of The Sopranos. The culture of violence perpetuated by the entertainment industry in order to shock audiences and thus pursue the almighty dollar is just as much to blame as the possession of guns. Given that both sides of our political spectrum are represented, maybe conservatives ("guns") and liberals ("entertainment") could actually work together to solve this issue rather than only presenting their side of the argument. Peter could start to bridge this gap in his weekly column.
—Rob B., Shelburne, Vermont
I love Shelburne, by the way, Rob. Thanks for the note. Yes, this is a complex issue in our society, and TV violence and violent video games could well be a significant part of the problem. I would love to see all of those things discussed in a national forum about gun violence. But here’s the thing: Lots of countries show violent TV shows. Lots of countries have kids playing violent video games. We’re the only country with 19-year-old kids toting murder machines like the AR-15 into schools and assassinating young students. It’s a sin, a crime, a blight on our country. And we have to be willing to look at ALL the reasons for this. We can’t exclude, as the NRA wants us to do, the easy access to semi-automatic weapons by teenagers too young to drink a beer.
• Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.