There is an additional pressure on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell as he approaches the negotiating table with exactly one week left to sign a long-term deal before playing the season under the franchise tag: A handful of other running backs are watching and counting on him to break the bank.
Johnson’s thoughts are especially interesting on the matter because, like Bell, he has elevated himself into a class above standard running backs. Last season, Johnson was just 121 yards away from 1,000 receiving yards in addition to his 1,239 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Bell has twice topped 600 receiving yards over the last four seasons, posting a similar season to Johnson’s 2016 in 2014 with 1,361 yards rushing and 854 yards receiving.
The new age of hybrid running back deserves a salary structure which takes into consideration all of their additional responsibilities, but as the MMQB correctly pointed out, they do not come up for a second deal until they are roughly 27, an age that typically signifies the beginning of the down arc in a running back’s career.
A Devonta Freeman deal in Atlanta could at least help get the ball rolling. While it’s not going to move the needle in the way Bell or Johnson hope, there hasn’t been much in the way of reported progress after owner Arthur Blank said at the end of June that a deal would be reached soon. Freeman declined to comment on his deal in an interview with ESPN recently because he was leading his free youth football camp.
So for now, the positional traffic jam continues. Does Bell have the star power to open the door for everyone else?