Le'Veon Bell Is A Victim Of The Devaluation Of Running Backs In The NFL

Le'Veon Bell Is A Victim Of The Devaluation Of Running Backs In The NFL


Walter Payton, arguable the best running back in the league during the 1975 through 1987 seasons, and most talented player on the field, made a base salary of $700,000 annually before his final contract; when the average NFL player salary was about $162,000 a year.

If Payton was playing in the NFL today he’d potentially be making more than a third less than what his value demanded in his heyday, if adjusted for inflation and present-day player salaries are factored in.

Le’Veon Bell is another example of how the sport has evolved during Goodell’s reign. Bell, star running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waited until the very last day to report to training camp in 2017 and is reportedly considering skipping again in 2018, after the Steelers christened him with the team’s Franchise Tag. Bell’s skills are unparalleled in the league. He not only led the Steelers in the run, rushing for over 1,884 yards in only twelve games, he is second only to Antonio Brown with a total of 2,005 of the team’s receiving yards for the Steelers in the four years leading up to 2017.

The Bleacher Report reported (July 25th 2017), that Bell is number one in NFL history with yards from scrimmage through his first four seasons. He’s 24th overall with 6,050 yards from scrimmage or 128.7 yards per game.4 Bell’s linebacker (Ryan Shazier) complimented him in the Player’s Tribune by writing:

“Any other running back motions out? As a defense, you’re thinking: OK, cool. But you’re not hurting us. Most linebackers will just jam the running back at the line and they’re done. But you’re not jamming [Bell]. [He] can hurt you like any top slot receiver.

“I can’t stress enough how much this matters. All week long, we watch film for like three or four hours a day. By the time Sunday rolls around, no matter how creative a team tries to get, you pretty much know the sets. You know what they like to run. But if you can flex out a guy like Le’Veon on the fly? It puts you on the back foot.”

The Steelers can slap the Franchise Tag on Bell again in 2018 at 120 percent of Bell’s previous salary for a huge deal and will worry about other pressing concerns, like replacing their aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Bleacher’s Report’s, Doug Farrar uses the term fungible to describe running backs in today’s NFL, but doesn’t go into detail about why a person of Bell’s extraordinary talents is undervalued compensation-wise.

Farrar calculates a fair market and production level value for Bell at “60.25 Million over three years”, but writes, “That’s starting quarterback money, and no matter how valuable Bell is, that’s not likely to happen. Even if you shave it off a little bit, it puts Bell in a different stratosphere for his position, and teams have a vested interest in reasonable caps for positional value.”
Unfortunately today’s NFL does not compensate extraordinary athletic achievements like it did when Tomlin arrived in the league, and Bell is a clear example of this. A lot of this has to do with Belichick’s personnel scouting system.

If a former Patriots running-back of the likes of Danny Woodhead, a college football Division III standout acquired by the Patriots after being released by the New York Jets, can present nightmares for defenses consumed with logistically covering a trumped up and very potent spread offense, then it becomes a game changer. You can drive to work in an economy car or a six figure sports car, but the former is a lot more practical factoring the potential for injuries and managing the salary caps…

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