Halftime Sports

Bell’s Bluff

January 18, 2018

Throughout sports history, players rarely retire while they are still performing at a high level. However, there have been a few cases, mainly in the NFL, of players becoming fed up with their franchises and retiring as a way to get the last laugh. The most notable players who have done this are Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, and Marshawn Lynch. Now, Le’Veon Bell appears ready to join their ranks, as he has threatened to retire if he is franchise tagged yet again.

To provide context, Sanders and Johnson both had the misfortune of playing for the perennially mismanaged Detroit Lions. Each threatened to retire if they were not traded, or if the organization did not make significant changes to the roster and coaching staff. The Lions, thinking the players were bluffing, did nothing. In turn, they managed to force the franchise’s two best players into retirement before their time. Marshawn Lynch, similarly, was frustrated with Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, and the Seahawks organization in general after their Super Bowl XLIX loss to the Patriots. Carroll infamously opted to throw the ball from the one yard line rather than handing it to Lynch. Wilson ultimately threw an interception that sealed the victory for the Patriots. Lynch, to the surprise of everyone, “retired” during the offseason. (As we all know, he then came out of retirement a year later to play for his hometown Oakland Raiders).

Le’Veon Bell, however, truly is bluffing. He has been franchise tagged by the Steelers two years in a row, and will likely be franchise tagged again for the 2018 season. While being franchise tagged typically results in a large one year paycheck, many players see it as a sign of disrespect. It virtually strips the player of any bargaining power. Players can technically sign with another team, but if their current team does not match the new offer, then the new team must give up two first round picks as repayment. This almost never happens, so players are stuck with their current team.

Another notable player who will likely be franchise tagged, yet again, is Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins has outperformed nearly everyone’s expectations since taking the reins from Robert Griffin III. But, the Redskins are reluctant to sign Cousins to a long term deal.  They would rather franchise tag him each year, forcing Cousins to continuously prove his worth. Cousins has handled this situation extremely well, stating that he views the franchise tag as a challenge and not as an insult. Bell, on the other hand, is frustrated with not receiving a long term contract. He is arguably the best running back in the NFL and believes he deserves to be paid as such, which is not an unreasonable request.

Bell has helped transform the Steelers offense into one of the most electric in the league. Before his arrival, the Steelers were a one-dimensional team that was content with Big Ben throwing the ball 50+ times a game. Bell is the first dominant Steelers running back since Jerome Bettis’ retirement. He has enjoyed immediate success since his arrival from Michigan State, and has surpassed many expectations. His ability to patiently wait for holes to open and improvise when a play breaks down is second to none. Bell is also one of the few power backs in the NFL capable of busting runs up the middle for huge gains. His inside run presence has allowed the offense to utilize play action passes, and has taken some of the pressure off of an aging Roethlisberger. Bell is also a valuable asset to the Steelers passing game. He totaled 85 catches for 655 yards and 2 touchdowns during the regular season and added 88 receiving yards and 1 touchdown in the Steelers playoff loss to the Jaguars. Le’Veon Bell is as valuable to the Steelers success as Antonio Brown or Big Ben are. He is a true playmaker who can instantly transform any teams’ offense, and would just as quickly decimate the Steelers should he retire or sign with another team.

Yet, for some reason, the Steelers are reluctant to lock Bell down with a long-term deal. In response to reports that he will be franchise tagged a third time, Bell has threatened to retire. This is seemingly his only form of leverage over the organization. Unfortunately for Le’Veon, no one actually believes him. He is much too young and talented to retire. At 25 years old, he ranked 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards this season. If anything, Bell will refuse to report to training camp until he caves in to the franchise tag, receives a long term deal, or is traded. The Steelers would be foolish to trade Bell; thus, more than likely, he will accept the franchise tag or will finally get the contract he deserves.

Hopefully for Steelers fans, and NFL fans in general, Bell is merely bluffing about retirement. It would be an absolute waste of talent for him to retire while in his prime; and it would be careless for the Steelers front office to let a once in a lifetime talent like Bell walk away just because they were too cheap to give him a long term deal.    

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