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Tim Benz: Todd Gurley, Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell aren’t creating trickle down

July 29, 2018

It was supposed to be Steelers Pro Bowler Le’Veon Bell who “set the market for running backs” in the future.

Players such as Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley.

Instead, it ended up being Gurley who did that for Bell.

Now Bell will reap the rewards when he hits free agency next year after his franchise tag expires. Barring an awful 2018 or another major injury, he potentially will make even more than Gurley.

Fun.

If multiple reports are accurate, Bell turned down at least $33 million in guarantees from the Steelers before training camp started. Meanwhile Gurley accepted $45 million to extend his contract with the Rams through the year 2023.

Poor Todd. It was “only” $60 million in total money. Not close to his “just, like, $80 million” pittance he was scrounging for in that self-deprecating comparison to NBA contracts he made a few weeks ago.

Let’s hope he can survive.

Bell tweeted congratulations to Gurley and said “lol and ppl thought I was trippin?”

As Bell has so often done during these highly chronicled negotiations, he is missing the point of the public’s reaction to his contract demands. Very few Steelers fans were doubting Bell’s ability to get at least one team to shell out enough dough to make him happy once his free agency hits in the winter of 2019.

The Steelers fans I encountered seemed more put off by Bell’s insistence on breaking the bank, despite reports he was offered multiple contracts from the Steelers that at least cleaned out the vault.

Bell’s continuous narrative that he would’ve liked to stay in Pittsburgh at the right price looks disingenuous. Frankly, these negotiations may have been one big waste of time.

What was with all of Bell’s happy talk at the Pro Bowl? It seems like since then the Steelers came up a lot, yet every request from Bell reportedly increased.

“I don’t have no business talking about that,” said Bell’s backup James Conner. “I haven’t done anything close to be talking about contract talks and everything. I am just trying to get on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers and make plays.”

That’s something he’ll have a chance to do while Bell sits out of camp, presumably until the Steelers are between their third and fourth preseason games, if not beyond. The Steelers need to ready themselves to replace Bell after 2018 is finished. They need to see how close Conner can come to replicating some of Bell’s massive skills.

Stevan Ridley will have a chance, too. The 29-year-old knows the nature of the NFL running back position. Pittsburgh is his eighth stop in seven years. His body took a pounding early in his career. But even he -- a veteran six years older than Conner -- is having a hard time gleaning any tangible benefit from the way Gurley and Bell have reconfigured contractual expectations for running backs.

“Congratulations to Gurley. That’s an awesome accomplishment,” Ridley said. “But for everybody else, you’ve got to get in where you fit in. I’m focused on being the best me I can be and making this running back room better right now.

“To see these guys getting some cheese, some cake, it’s always a good thing. But that’s not my primary focus right now.”

The reactions of Conner and Ridley were refreshing. It was almost as if two peers in the NFL running back club were having just as hard of a time relating to the dollar signs being thrown around as those of us watching the games.

The notion that Bell and Gurley are playing cap-busting hardball with their current teams as some sort of altruistic effort to create a “trickle-down economy” for their running back brethren is hilarious. In a capped sport, there’s less to trickle per roster if a few guys at the top are soaking up all of it.

Hey, get paid what you can. God bless ’em.

But more guys like Gurley and Bell at this specialized position won’t create a “running back middle class.” It’ll mean more guys like Ridley and Conner -- journeymen on cheap deals and young players on rookie contracts -- behind the big-ticket starters.

Give Gurley some credit, though. Aside from failing to get that NBA money he cherished, Gurley got a number he could live with on a good team with a bright future. And he signed.

Bell had that chance, too. Yet he simply seems intent on chasing every last penny.

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