By Bill Foley
Say what you want, but Le’Veon Bell is a man of his word.
The soon-to-be former Pittsburgh Steelers running back said he would sit out the entire 2018 season instead of playing under the franchise tag, and he is doing just that.
Tuesday’s deadline for Bell to report to the team and sign the franchise tender came and went, and the running back officially forfeited his entire season salary of $14.54 million.
Bell could be the dumbest human being on the planet, or he could be the smartest.
He could be the most selfish, greedy athlete alive, or maybe he is being selfless for the benefit of players of the future.
Only time will tell how Bell’s staring contest with Steelers and the NFL will be viewed. Right now, though, it appears Bell is losing, and losing badly.
For one thing, Bell is missing out on playing for a team that has the makings of a deep playoff run, and Super Bowl chances are hard to come by.
Just ask Todd Bell and All Harris.
In 1985, the two Pro Bowl defenders threatened to hold out the entire season because the Chicago Bears would not give them a raise. The Bears called their bluff and replaced them with youngsters Dave Duerson and Wilber Marshall as they shuffled their way to the Lombardi Trophy.
By the time Bell and Harris returned the next season, nobody noticed they were gone. And they never made up the money they lost by holding out.
Like the Bears did with Bell and Harris, the Steelers have found a much cheaper replacement for Le’Veon Bell. With young James Conner taking over at running back, Pittsburgh has won five straight and leads the AFC North at 6-2-1.
So, it looks like Le’Veon Bell will join Todd Bell and Al Harris in the club of players who fought the man and lost big time. Or, maybe he will join Curt Flood as a martyr paving the way for better treatment of players in the future.
We know how Steelers fans are siding on this. To them, Bell is an overpaid, ungrateful villain, and they are burning their No. 26 jerseys.
But why is it that we only use words like “greedy” and “overpaid” on professional athletes? Nobody complains when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tom Cruise or Mark Wahlberg take home $60 million for a movie.
They just go to the theater, hand over the $45 for the popcorn and pop and enjoy themselves.
Those actors are not overpaid. The box office numbers will tell you that.
Likewise, NFL players are not overpaid. Even in the wake of the great national anthem controversy, league owners are making a killing off our nation’s obsession of Sundays.
If anything, NFL players are underpaid, and Le’Veon Bell is only asking for money that he knows another team would pay him if was a free agent. Sure, the Steelers offered him a $70 million contract extension. However, they didn’t guarantee enough money for Bell’s liking, and Bell could have lost most of that money with one twist of the knee.
That offer, by the way, came after Bell carried the ball 321 times and caught it 85 more times while playing under the franchise tag in 2017. The Steelers used and abused him like he was C.C. Sabathia throwing 150 pitches on two days rest for the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers.
Bell thought that kind of effort should have earned him the right to be a free agent, and he’s right.
The problem in this isn’t that Bell is greedy or that the Steelers are cheap. The problem is the franchise tag in the first place.
He were are almost 50 years after Flood sued baseball to try to become a free agent, and not every pro football star gets that right.
Oh, most players get to be a free agent if they last in the league long enough. If they are really good, though, they are out of luck.
Teams can simply slap the franchise tag on their stars, and they might as well be living under the old Reserve Clause.
Nowhere else can an employer do that. An executive at Microsoft cannot use the francize tag to keep an executive from leaving for Boeing. McDonald’s cannot use the franchise tag to stop a cook from heading to Burger King.
Granted, the franchise tag comes with a hefty salary, but that’s not the point. Any player who chooses to play out the franchise year (or years) is guaranteed nothing the following season.
In a violent game like football, that is just not right. The union was wrong to go for it in the collective bargaining agreement. The teams are wrong to use it.
Le’Veon Bell is standing up to an unfair system, even though he could have used a better PR man while doing it. He should be respected for that.
Or maybe we should just all point an laugh at the $14.54 million the Steelers get to keep in the bank as Bell stays home to play Fortnite.
Speaking of laughable, my dismal 6-7-1 record against the spread last week spoiled an otherwise respectable 9-5 performance straight up.
I am 89-59 on the season. Against Vegas, I am 65-81-2. Nobody will ever accuse me for being paid too much to pick football games.
Following are my Week 11 picks. The lines are from ESPN, which I would join if it wasn’t for this Butte Sports franchise tag.
Green Bay (plus 3) at Seattle
CenturyLink Field has been a house of horrors for the Packers.
Whether it’s the “Fail Mary” or an onside kick, the Packers seem to go down in gloriously heartbreaking fashion when they travel to Seattle.
Seahawks by 1
Dallas (plus 3.5) at Atlanta
These two might be the most up-and-down teams in the league. Last week, Dallas was up while Atlanta was down.
So it only makes sense.
Falcons by 6
Carolina (minus 4) at Detroit
I’ll sit up straight to type this: Matt Patricia’s Lions stink.
Panthers by 11
Tennessee (plus 2.5) at Indianapolis
A few weeks ago, the Titans lost at Buffalo. Last week, they opened a can against the Patriots.
That makes absolutely no sense.
Colts by 3
Tampa Bay (plus 1.5) at New York Giants
For as little as $53, you can see this game in person.
You’d have to pay me a lot more than that.
Giants by 8
Houston (minus 3) at Washington
The Texans have won six straight. They won half of those by 3 points or less.
Native Americans by 2
Pittsburgh (minus 5.5) at Jacksonville
The Steelers don’t need Le’Veon Bell for this one.
Steelers by 10
Cincinnati (no line) at Baltimore
The Ravens were off last week while the Bengals were giving up a 50 burger at home to the Saints.
Ravens by 8
Oakland (plus 5.5) at Arizona
You have to tip your hat to the schedule makers for this one.
Cards by 2
Denver (plus 7) at Los Angeles Chargers
La-La Land has two of the best teams in the league, and nobody even notices.
Chargers by 14
Philadelphia (plus 8) at New Orleans
The good news for the defending Super Bowl champions is this game is on the road, so they won’t get booed.
The bad news is the game is in New Orleans.
Saints by 11
Minnesota (plus 2.5) at Chicago
Win or lose, frat boys like Bill Simmons will still find a reason to tell us Mitch Trubisky stinks.
You know what, Bill Simmons stinks.
Bears by 7
Kansas City (plus 3.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Because of poor field conditions, the NFL moved this game from the neutral site of Mexico City to the neutral site of Los Angeles.
Chefs by 1
On the bye: Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, 49ers