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How Le'Veon Bell's Deal Makes Him the Biggest Loser of Free Agency

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has agreed to a deal with the New York Jets, according to The Associated Press and others. But if you look back at how he got here, you can see that a series of missteps ultimately cost him a lot of money.

Bell played a game of chicken with the Steelers last year and it did not go well — for him or the Steelers.

The three-time Pro Bowler wound up not only missing out on the $14.5 million he would have gotten if he didn’t sit out the 2018 season, but now, as he prepares to sign a deal with the Jets, he is taking less money than the Steelers reportedly offered him.

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Consider the Jets deal, which he is expected to sign Wednesday afternoon when the free agency period officially begins.

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According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it’s a four-year, $52.5 million deal that includes $35 million guaranteed for the 27-year old, who many considered to be the best running back in football — before he sat out last season.

Including incentives, the Jets deal has a maximum value of close to $61 million, ESPN reported.

Without the incentives, it comes down to about $13.1 million per year. (With the incentives, it’s about $15 million per year. But we don’t know what the incentives are, and, as we’ve seen with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, even great players don’t always meet those incentives.)

That $13.1 million is less than what Bell rejected from the Steelers in both  2017 and 2018, according to 247 Sports.

Is Bell the biggest loser of free agency?

In 2017, Bell reportedly was offered a long-term deal that would have paid him $13.3 million per season. A deal was not reached, and Bell wound up being franchised for $12.1 million.

In 2018, the Steelers reportedly offered the running back a five-year, $70 million deal that included $33 million guaranteed. That would have paid him about $14 million per year.

Bell rejected the offer. He reportedly was seeking a deal in the neighborhood of $17 million per year, which is similar to what the Steelers gave wide receiver Antonio Brown.

So Pittsburgh put the franchise tag on him again, which would have paid him $14.5 million — if he showed up.

As we all know, Bell sat out the entire year and never got the $14.5 million.

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it’s been a long strange trip to New York for Bell, who, by the way, also dropped a new rap album Wednesday called “Life’s a Gamble.”

Bell definitely took a gamble that he’d get more than the Steelers offered, and it looks like — unless he earns those incentives — he lost.

He’s also going to a 4-12 Jets team, but it’s safe to say they will be much improved in 2019 under new coach Adam Gase with Bell joining second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. They might even be better than the Steelers, who lost their two best players.

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Dave is a lifelong sports fan who has been writing for The Wildcard since 2017. He has been a writer for more than 20 years for a variety of publications.
Dave has been writing about sports for The Wildcard since 2017. He's been a reporter and editor for over 20 years, covering everything from sports to financial news. In addition to writing for The Wildcard, Dave has covered mutual funds for Pensions and Investments, meetings and conventions, money market funds, personal finance, associations, and he currently covers financial regulations and the energy sector for Macallan Communications. He has won awards for both news and sports reporting.
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