So it’s official. Star running back Le’veon Bell will sit out the entire 2018 season. As a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers since he joined the league as a rookie in 2013, Bell has managed to accumulate 5,336 yards rushing. Bell has set numerous Steelers franchise records and is one of the reasons for their recent success. So why is he not on the field? Three words: money, money, money.
By not signing the one-year franchise tag contract by Nov. 13, Bell is forced by league rules to sit out the entire 2018 season. The franchise tag is one of the ways NFL teams keep their players from switching teams for more money.
While it’s a complicated topic that has to do with contracts, conditions and collective bargaining agreements, it comes down to this—Bell thinks he is worth more than the Steelers are willing to pay. So unless he gets what he wants, he won’t play and will forfeit all of the money he would have made this season (about $14.5 million). Labeled a traitor by some of his teammates and fans, Bell has a very good reason for sitting the season out.
Earl Thomas, one athlete who took the opposite approach and plays safety for the Seattle Seahawks, held out on practicing with the team for four weeks during the preseason in hope of a higher paying contract. Deciding to prove what a “team player” he was, Thomas joined the team at the beginning of the regular season… and then promptly broke his leg in Week Four, ending his season and jeopardizing his career.
As he was carted off the field, Thomas gave his own sideline a gesture of his ill feelings towards them, and fellow teammate Bobby Wagner summed up Thomas’ (and Bell’s) situation perfectly: “If he doesn’t come, he’s not a team player. If he does come and gets hurt, then it’s ‘he shouldn’t have come.’”
Sports teams are a business and have always been treated as such by team owners and league management. Where was the league’s “loyalty” when the Rams were moved half a continent from St. Louis to Los Angeles or the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas?
In an attempt to move the teams to bigger markets to make more money, the league completely betrayed tons of fans who have spent decades investing time and money into their local team. The league should not be surprised then when players start to look at the economics of the situation and start making decisions that, while they might harm the team or league, are more financially reasonable for themselves.
In a league where the chances of career-ending injury is so very high and the payout opportunities so infrequent, it might not pay to play.