There’s going to be someone who tries his or her best to explain why it was a waste for Le’Veon Bell to sit out the 2018 season. That person will take his contract details—once official—then pull out a calculator, carry the one and say “a-ha! He actually ended up making less money by sitting out!”
And that person may be right. As hypothetical as it is, there may be genuine, empirical proof that Bell came out of this earning less money in the bank than he would have had he played last season under the $14.5-million franchise tag and gotten paid this week.
There are several reasons why I believe Bell’s decision to sit out last year ultimately to sign with the New York Jets this week for a four-year deal worth up to $52.5 million was worth it.
The first and most obvious one is that there’s no extra year of wear and tear on his body. This is what the guaranteed-money comparisons (and please don’t compare the average-per-year on deals where so few NFL players ever see the life of the contract) fail to account for. Anything could have happened to Bell’s body on the field in the 2018 season that would have wrecked his future earning potential. Yes, he would have pocketed that $14.5 million, but he also would have had no guarantees moving forward.
Bell, who just turned 27 years old, plays a sport in which guys at his position usually fall off around the time they hit 30. But Bell has only played in 62 regular-season games, which doesn’t even equal four full seasons. There’s a very likely scenario in which he plays three years of this four-year deal and then demands another contract at his age 30 season, thus getting a second bite at the guaranteed-money apple.
Secondly, Bell ended up in a place where he can blossom further as a star and entertainer. My colleague Andy Benoit wrote about what he expects Bell to do on the field for the Jets. But Bell will be marketed in the greatest city in the world as the guy who will help the sophomore quarterback take the next step. He’ll surely be part of the new uniform debut this spring.
And he’ll have more opportunities to pursue his rap career. Bell dropped his album “Life’s A Gamble” at midnight on Wednesday, and he seems very serious about this second career. (I actually tried to see Le’Veon perform in Charlotte during All-Star Game Weekend last month. He was scheduled to hit the stage at 10:15 p.m. and after an hour of waiting I figured he would be the classic celebrity no-show. He finally came on after midnight. Wish I had that story for y’all.)
Finally, Bell stood up to an NFL system that’s heavily slanted in favor of the owners—and that has to count for something. If you’re unwilling to give Bell credit for taking this stance for current and future players alike, fine. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t make an impression.
He got tired of being franchise-tagged, and as my colleague Gary Gramling astutely points out, the players union should fight like hell at the next collective bargaining talks to kill it. Teams are now aware that a player is willing to leave money on the table in order to ultimately get what he wants. The rules for how NFL players conduct themselves are clearly changing, and Bell is evidence of that.
If you weigh this in literal dollars and cents, yes, there’s a fairly convincing argument to be made that Bell has emerged with less money. But that still doesn’t mean his plan wasn’t worth it.
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