Todd Gurley’s new contract hasn’t just reset the running market. He’s hauled the stalls in from the outskirts of town and set him and his grateful colleagues up in a swanky mall.
Bell, arguably the NFL’s premier all-purpose back, has stood his ground for the best part of two years in negotiation with Pittsburgh. Now Gurley, who has only just posted the type of season that Bell has made his currency, gets a $57.5 million, four-year extension through to 2023 – and crucially $45m of that is guaranteed.
But Bell woke up smiling on Wednesday. Lev’s now got leverage. Offered similar figures per year to Gurley, Pittsburgh were reportedly only willing to guarantee $10m of that in what the former Michigan State star took as a gargantuan slap to the face.
not mad at all, I’m actually extremely happy to be honest 🤗 https://t.co/CuGiYYAfKo— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 25, 2018
The Steelers brass will be in facepalm mode today but there were reasons for their reticence. Gurley is 23, while Bell is 26 and lost a majority of the season to injury in 2015.
The attrition rate of running backs, unless you defy common sense like 35-year-old plodder Frank Gore, is high. There are also a surfeit of serviceable, fresh-faced runners who put their hand up to take more punishment in the draft each year.
But a man who has tallied some 8,000 yards combined in four-and-a-half seasons rightfully feels he deserves more respect from a Pittsburgh front office who fear the tread on his tyres will soon be worn out completely.
The Rams have taken the gamble that Gurley will remain an elite talent for the majority of his contract, a contract that dwarfs the next best long-term deal for a running-back penned last year by Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman ($41.25m through five years, $18.3m guaranteed).
The difference is that Freeman is a violent runner who occasionally catches a ball. Bell, meanwhile, made 85 receptions last season, the tenth-most in the league. For perspective that’s two more than Demaryius Thomas, the Denver wide receiver who locked down $43.5m in guarantees, three years ago.
So while most running backs are likely to get a boost out of the Gurley developments, the truly undervalued players are the men who are asked to run, catch, block and everything in between.
There are few enough of those for the Rams to justifiably have paid top dollar. Gurley, who totalled around 2,100 yards from scrimmage in 2017, is one.
New Orleans back Alvin Kamara and Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, both heading into their second year, will also be smiling about their futures. Then there’s Arizona’s David Johnson – an example of why NFL teams are so reluctant given he missed last year through injury – and Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott.
It is nonetheless a small, elite group and Bell, likely on the open market next year, will be relishing those warmer waters.
From now on, teams will have to go shopping for him at the mall.
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