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Rutter: Clearing up Bell’s franchise tag number

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Trying to make sense of the NFL salary cap and collective bargaining agreement is a lot like trying to decipher the IRS tax code. It can be confusing and can lead to mistakes by those without genius IQs.

I learned as much Monday night when dealing with the Le’Veon Bell franchise-tag situation and trying to determine his salary figure for the 2017 season. So, I decided to use this forum to clarify some statements written in today’s article.

Because I failed to read one part of the NFL rules on franchise tags, I wrote that Bell’s salary number under an “exclusive” franchise player designation would be dictated by Adrian Peterson’s salary this season. And I wrote that Bell’s salary wouldn’t be known until April 21, the end of the restricted free agency period. While Peterson’s salary will help determine the value of an “exclusive” franchise tag and April 21 remains the deadline, neither will apply to Bell’s case this year.

Here is why, and I’ll try to keep the explanation as simple as a wordy first-year beat writer can do in the wee hours of the morning:

The more common “non-exclusive” franchise designation is based on the salaries of the five highest-paid players from the previous season, but also takes into account 5 years of data as it pertains to the salary cap. This resulted in a $11.789 million “non-exclusive” value for running backs in 2016 even though the top 5 salaries for running backs averaged about $8.6 million.

The “exclusive” designation pertains to the top 5 salaries for the current season. With Peterson (and his $18 million salary for 2017) possibly being released by the Vikings, that will reduce the average salary for a franchise running back significantly. Some estimates have the 5-player average going as low as $7.2 million.

But, thanks to another CBA provision (one I originally overlooked), the Steelers knew when deciding which tag to apply that Bell would get between $12.2-$12.4 million in 2017.

Why?

Because of the section of the CBA which states that if the “exclusive” value is lower than the “non-exclusive” value — which surely will be the case this season at running back — the player will receive the greater value.

So, no matter what happens with Adrian Peterson in the upcoming weeks, the Steelers will pay Bell the higher rate in 2017. Again, that number won’t be known until the salary cap is set within the next week, but is expected to be between $12.2-$12.4 million based on a $168 million salary cap. And once that figure is known, there’s no need waiting to see what the lower April 21 “exclusive” figure will be.

With finances being no consideration in the matter, the decision about which tag to apply to Bell came down to whether the Steelers wanted to allow him to negotiate with other teams (and receive two first-round draft picks as compensation had he signed elsewhere). The Steelers ultimately decided to use the “exclusive” tag, which permits no other teams to negotiate with Bell.

It was a decision made from a truly “football” standpoint and was devoid of economic implications as it pertains to the CBA and it’s confounding franchise-tag rules.

Having tried to clear that up, it’s back to genuine football. I leave today for the NFL combine in Indianapolis where I’ll be reporting on 40-yard dash times and bench press totals for the next few days. Check back for our daily coverage.

— Joe Rutter

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Author: Joe Rutter

After 13 years covering the Pirates -- the first 13 of their losing streak from 1993-2012 -- I moved away from PNC Park and into an assistant editor's position. Now, in 2016, after 10 years away from a beat, I'm back and happily covering the Steelers.

 
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