The Pittsburgh Steelers and franchise running back Le’Veon Bell were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal this offseason. So the Steelers franchise tagged Bell and he is about to play the 2017 season on a one-year guaranteed contract. As the Steelers opened up training camp, Bell was noticeably absent from the premises as he decided to hold out, as players will routinely do to try and avoid practice in hopes of getting the team to get going on a new deal in the player’s favor. In the end, the holdout may not amount to much, but Bell will surely pay attention to some contract news coming through the NFL wire Wednesday morning from Atlanta.
Michael Silver of NFL.com was among the first to report this news from the Falcons, via Twitter.
Devonta Freeman and the Falcons have agreed to a five-year contract extension that makes him the NFL's highest-paid running back @nflnetwork
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2017
The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to make Devonta Freeman the highest-paid running back in the league as part of a new five-year contract extension valued at $41.25 million over the course of the contract. The former fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State is coming off a second-straight Pro Bowl season and was the NFL’s leading touchdown rusher in 2015. Last year, as the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl, Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns with 462 receiving yards and two more touchdowns to his stat line.
Freeman’s contract will average out to $8.25 million per year and includes a guaranteed $22 million and a $15 million signing bonus. The contract brings an end to a drawn-out negotiating battle between the two sides and means Freeman does not have to play out the final season on his rookie contract before testing the free agent waters, as he was supposedly on track to do. It also settles a running back concern for the Falcons going into the 2017 season, or it might just create a bit of a headache depending upon whom you ask.
Falcons sure are paying a lot of money to an RB who was no better than his backup last year. https://t.co/6c4AZGdQU8
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) August 9, 2017
The backup Michael Smith of Pro Football Talk is referring is Tevin Coleman. Coleman rushed for 520 yards and eight touchdowns on 118 rushing attempts (Freeman had 227 carries). Some argue the Falcons would be just fine putting the ball in Coleman’s hands if they no longer had Freeman as part of the offense, but the huge investment in Freeman shows the Falcons are going all in with Freeman running the football in the years to come.
So what does all of this mean going forward for Bell? It means the market is slanting more and more in his favor. Freeman is slated to make more in 2017 than LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills and Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bell will still make more this year on the $12.12 million contract he will eventually play with the Steelers, just as soon as he ends his holdout (which will undoubtedly happen, because players always end the holdouts, and usually without getting a new deal anyway).
Some might argue Bell is the best running back in the NFL, and that will reflect in his contract sooner or later. The only question is whether or not it comes with the Steelers. If Bell, who will not turn 26 until February, has another good season with the Steelers, he will be a top free agent signing in 2018.