Le’Veon Bell’s contract dispute was one of the most-talked-about and, frankly, ugliest stories in the NFL season.
For the uninitiated, Bell was seeking to sign a new contract which would make him the highest paid running back in the league, and which would reposition the running back position on par with quarterbacks as one of the highest-paid positions in the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who still held the rights to Bell, sought a more modest deal, rumored to have been $47 million dollars for three years.
Bell reportedly turned down this offer due to a lack of guaranteed money which was around $20 million dollars of the deal, despite the offer itself matching his ask of $15 million dollars a year. For reference, Todd Gurley signed a $57.5-million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Rams at the beginning of the season which included around $45 million dollars worth of guaranteed money.
When it became clear that the two sides were unlikely to make a deal, the Steelers opted to place the franchise tag on Bell which would have paid him $14.5 million dollars, only half a million dollars below Bell’s asking price. Bell, intent on signing a long-term deal, refused to report to the team until such a deal was agreed to. Ultimately, this is how Bell’s season ended, before it ever even began, as a holdout.
So, now that we are all up to speed, why does this matter? It’s interesting, sure, but beyond the owners who lost Bell for the season, how does this impact dynasty fantasy football?
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
First, I did a bit of data collection and collected the records of the team owning Bell over 50 leagues. I collected the record of the team in the 2017 season and now in the 2018 season. For a league to be added to the data set, the team in question had to own Bell in both seasons. While I felt Bell would have an impact on the teams that lost him, the actual outcome was rather surprising. The teams in the data set saw an average swing of two losses year over year!
The average team with Bell in 2017 averaged an 8-5 record while those same teams saw their record drop to 6-7 without him in 2018. This one player actually determined whether the teams that owned him would make the playoffs versus narrowly missing them a season later.
While the effects of Bell’s loss are stark this season, the thrust of this article involves how his loss could send ripples beyond this season and into next season as well, and possibly, impact dynasty leagues for years to come. It is my belief that the loss of Bell could have a psychological effect on those owners who witnessed their teams falling from playoff contention to missing the playoffs just a season later. Additionally, those teams will now be in a position to alter the draft landscape across the dynasty fantasy football format.
Yeah, I said it: “Psychological effect.”
It is human nature to fortify our weaknesses and to minimize our exposure to negative stimuli. It doesn’t require one to delve too deeply into the game of fantasy football to understand that additional losses, to say nothing of missing the playoffs, could be correctly identified as a negative stimulus, one every owner is looking to avoid. Entire industries are built around identifying weaknesses for others and helping correct those identified weaknesses.
I’m willing to bet that many of the teams who own Bell are keenly aware of where one of their biggest weaknesses lays and won’t have any need for the services of those that could service to highlight them. They know, like most other dynasty owners know, the running back position has been their weakness. So how would any rational human being work to shore up their weaknesses and avoid negative stimuli? If you said something along the lines of “work on those weaknesses,” then congratulations, you are a rational person.
What does this mean for the rest of the dynasty world, in other words, those teams that don’t own Bell? Well, in all likelihood, Bell owners are going to look to add a running back through the draft. There are a lot of forces in play here, so I’ll do my best to outline much of what is currently happening, and what could occur moving forward on multiple fronts.
- First, if we are to believe Bell owners are rational individuals, and a high percentage are, then they will work to minimize their weaknesses being exposed. With the unsure nature of what he brings next season, be that a new team or a continued and protracted contract battle with the Steelers who would still own his rights, dynasty owners who have him on their team will look to add another running back, and given the choice between two equally talented options before them, one at running back and one at another position, will very likely take the running back option.
- Second, other owners in a given league, knowing this weakness, can game plan their drafts a bit better than in previous years as the Bell owners’ hand has effectively been tipped at a macro level. Sure, some owner will buck the trend simply to prove they can, others due to more top-end running backs on their roster and others still because they believe Bell will return to form and there is nothing to worry about, opting for the value presented instead of perceived weakness.
- Third, some teams have had to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of having both Bell and Kareem Hunt on their roster. Once considered a team that could be considered a true dynasty, these teams, if you have one in your league, will almost certainly, with the first opportunity they get, select a running back in your dynasty rookie draft.
- Fourth, from an observable macro view, we should see rookie running backs ADP values inflated a bit than in prior seasons. This should open some debate about whether the running backs at the top of the rookie ADP list next season are riding a Bell/Hunt wave and if they are, if even marginally, overvalued versus their skills, NFL Draft value and perceived usage. We could see Bell owners skew several running back prospects higher than those same players would have been drafted if not for Bell’s contract issues.
Due to circumstances out of their control, I believe many Bell owners will err on the side of caution, opting to draft running backs early, and possibly often, in their 2019 rookie dynasty drafts. This effect will, almost certainly, inflate comparable rookie running back ADP values higher than in previous seasons. This effect may be magnified due to those owners now holding draft picks close to the start of the draft, making running backs not only more desirable to those owners, but forcing them to select those running backs uniformly higher than owners would individually in any other season.
Owners that don’t own Bell, you’re being given a playbook in how to adjust draft strategy with this knowledge. Bell owners, you are likely displeased with the outcome of this season, but if Bell returns to form and you can have another top-end running back as insurance and support, this strategy is not only your best bet, but one that could make this season look like a speed bump in the rear view mirror for years to come. Good luck to both sides of this battle!