Le’Veon Bell Went From an NFL Star to a Practice-Squad Player After His Holdout

The 29-year-old agreed earlier this week to join the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens for about $250,000

Le'Veon Bell looks on during training camp in August 2020
Le'Veon Bell looks on during training camp in August 2020.
Mike Stobe/Getty

After rushing for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns and to go along with 2,660 yards and seven scores as a pass-catcher in five seasons with the Steelers, three-time Pro Bowler Le’Veon Bell asked Pittsburgh for a raise in 2018.

Seeking $17 million per year from the team after playing under the franchise tag in ’17 and making about $12 million, Bell turned down a five-year deal that would have paid him an average of $14 million annually and instead sat out the entire ’18 season after refusing to sign the one-year $14.5 million franchise tender he was also offered.

Bell’s bet on himself to sit out a year of football in order to avoid playing under the franchise tag for two straight years so he could hit free agency with no strings prior to the 2019-20 season didn’t exactly pay off the way he thought it would as he ultimately ended up agreeing to a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets that included $27 million fully guaranteed. Though Bell did get paid fairly well in the short-term, his long-term career prospects took a big hit when he signed with the Jets (as is often the case with talented players) and he was released early last season after rushing for just 863 yards and three touchdowns in 17 games with New York.

Though Bell was able to latch on with the Chiefs and helped the defending champs during the regular season along the way to losing the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay (he wasn’t much of a factor in the playoffs), the 29-year-old was only paid about $700,000 and was cut by Kansas City after the season. On social media, Bell vowed to keep playing.

Saying he would sign somewhere when he was ready, Bell has apparently decided the time is right and agreed earlier this week to join the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens for about $250,000 — non-guaranteed.

Bell’s signing with Baltimore, which comes in the wake of season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill in the preseason, slots him in as the third-string back with the Ravens behind lead back Gus Edwards, 2020 undrafted free agent Ty’Son Williams and possibly recent signee Trenton Cannon and does not guarantee he will stick with the team or be active on game days.

It does guarantee he will be a part of his third organization in three seasons after refusing to play for, or sign a long-term deal with, one of the most stable teams of the league with whom he was a star player for five seasons. At the time, it was unclear what the ultimate result of Bell’s holdout would be. Now, on the eve of the third NFL season since the 2018 campaign he sat out, it seems pretty apparent that for all that Bell’s holdout gained him in short-term guaranteed cash from the Jets, it cost him quite a bit more in long-term earning potential in pay from both NFL teams and endorsement deals.

A star who could have cemented himself as the second face of the Steelers behind Ben Roethlisberger when he turned down a five-year deal worth $70 million, Bell has made less than $30 million since then playing football and may not get back on an NFL field for a regular-season game. Bell made a brave, ballsy bet, but it hasn’t paid off.

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