Due to a contract dispute, former Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell has yet to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. The 26-year-old has decided to sit instead of playing on another one-year deal because he feels he is not being compensated fairly.
And in all fairness, he's right.
Bell has been the NFL’s top rushers since the start of the 2014-15 season. He has finished top-5 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns every season since. To add to the former Spartan's accolades, he was also ranked fifth in the .
Despite the NFL recognizing Bell as the fifth best player in the league, , taking in $12.12 million that year. To add insult to injury, the 26-year-old rusher isn’t even the highest paid player in his position, as Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley is now set to be the highest-earning running back ever.
So this raises the question: if Bell is so good, why is he not one of the leagues top earners?
There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason.
Notable players ranked lower on the NFL's player rankings who are making much more money than Bell are: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who ranks No. 90 and makes $27.5 million, as well another former Spartan, Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is listed at No. 94 and earns $28 million per season.
Bell earns around half of what the two aforementioned players each make despite have a much more distinguished career.
Now, it’s no secret the NFL has been less generous than other leagues in paying their players over recent years. , the average player salary in the NFL is $2.1 million. Yes, $2.1 million is quite a bit of money, however, compare that to the MLB, where the average player takes home $4.4 million, and the NHL and NBA, where the average annual salary is $2.9 million and $6.2 million, respectively.
There is no question running backs generate much less attention than quarterbacks do, so them getting compensated evenly doesn’t seem very likely. However, there is no reason for Bell to be without a contract in the same realm as Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s . Beckham is just a year younger than Bell and is coming off a season in which he played in just five games.
If I was in Bell’s shoes, I honestly can’t say I would do anything differently. Numerous quarterbacks who have far-less decorated careers are making roughly double his salary. He is the best at his position and should be paid like the best. The fact that he has earned just over $16 million in his career is mind-blowing. Cousins will earn more than that by Week 10 of this NFL season.
The NFL compensates players the least out of the top-four major sports leagues despite players undergoing more health concerns and, on average, having significantly shorter careers. Running backs of Bell’s caliber should definitely be compensated on the same level as the league's quarterbacks.
There is no rush for Bell to sign with the Steelers this season and he should definitely pass on settling for anything less that what he feels is fair. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and I’m guessing there is quite the long line of teams willing to back up the Brinks truck to sign him.