My take on the situation: this is a huge mistake from Le’Veon’s side. Le’Veon did not want to sign his franchise tag for the reason that he wanted a sense of long-term security. The problem is that he was offered long-term contracts not once but twice. Teams are already wary on paying running backs due to their high risk of injury but it seemed that the Steelers put that notion to the side by wanting to secure their superstar running back for many years.
To be frank, I fully agree that players should do everything possible to get paid with whatever leverage that they have. There are many times where a player’s loyalty is not rewarded and they usually never get the chance to gain the full value of their worth. A good example of this is a player like DeMarco Murray who was one of the best running backs in the league during his time but made less than $3 million dollars over a span of four years during his peak moments with the Dallas Cowboys. He signed a $40 million dollar contract with the Eagles but would go on to collectively make only around $21 million dollars from that contract due to restructuring and constant injuries. While that is still a life-changing amount of money, it is a far cry from the money that he should’ve received for a player of his talents.
Le’Veon is right to be wary of something like this happening to him and any player of his status. However holding out for an entire year and costing yourself $14 million dollars in salary is an absolutely counter-productive move. He was offered two highly lucrative contracts which seemed extremely fair for a player with suspensions and a knee injury history and would have still been the highest paid running back in the league. He was basically offered what he looked for the entire time, long-term security and a lot of money. His holdout was apparently also to protect himself from injury and wear and tear. While that is a smart move on most occasions, costing yourself $14 million dollars guaranteed to protect yourself against an injury that may or may not happen is a poor calculative move. Holdouts can work at times, but only through certain game-changing positions such as quarterback. As a running back, leverage is limited because of the fact that most running backs are just waiting on their time to breakout and injuries to other running backs or other situations may allow them that opportunity which severely limits their leverage. For Le’Veon that lost leverage is in the form of James Conner. Conner is one of the best running backs in the league at the moment and has the full support of the city and teammates behind him. Having James Conner be as good as he’s been makes it completely easier to let Le’Veon walk away(unless they decide to use the transition tag to try and trade him and regain some value from him in the form of a high draft pick).
A player should always do what is best for him and his family and no one is blaming Le’Veon for that, but you should never cost yourself that much money in order to sign a new contract. Especially a contract that if you go to free agency, would be the around the same amount as the one you would’ve signed with the Steelers. While there will be many teams looking to sign Le’Veon, I see no team giving him a contract that blows away the $70 million dollar offer he got unless a team is crazy enough to make it fully guaranteed which is 100 percent unlikely.
Running backs like Todd Gurley and David Johnson know how quickly things can turn with the running back position, so they made sure to sign their deals quickly (4-years $57 million dollars and 3-years $39 million dollars respectively). Le’Veon Bell was looking to create a financial resurgence among the running back position, yet Todd Gurley was able to do this without any of the drama involved and without any holding out.
Le’Veon should’ve played under the tag, and then gotten more of his money that he still would’ve gotten in the offseason in the form of a new contract. That would’ve been $14 million dollars plus possibly another $14 million per year guaranteed in his new contract that I’m sure the Steelers would’ve given him. In my opinion, sitting out for the entire year was a unnecessary financial gamble. Time will only tell if the gamble will pay off.