On Monday, I opened my email inbox to a subject line that brought instant butterflies to my stomach: “Your ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Order.” After opening the email, I launched into a fist pump reminiscent of Matt Dumba slapping in a one-timer from the blue line.
I had been randomly assigned second overall pick, which I consider the second best only after seventh for a snake draft. This rush of excitement turned to dread as I realized I would have to decide between the remaining three of four powerhouse running backs, in which Le’Veon Bell was projected to go first. While I pride myself in running fantasy teams based as much as possible on statistics rather than superstitions or feelings, I had noticed one loosely correlated trend that had manifested itself as a lucky charm in my mind: every year I draft a different elite running back, and every year they become the top point scorers of the league (DeAngelo Williams in 2015, ranked #4, David Johnson in 2016, ranked #1, Todd Gurley in 2017, ranked #1 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2017, ranked #9).
(Photoshop by yours truly, as Johnson carried my injury-plagued lineups week in and week out)
Thus, assuming Bell would go first, I faced a conflict, as I had drafted all of the next best options (Gurley, Johnson, Elliot) in previous years. However, as you may have been able to judge by the title, the planets aligned for me and Gurley was drafted #1 overall, allowing me to pick Bell whom I had never previously owned. Little did I know, these aligned planets were all spinning in retrograde because the next day ESPN reported that Bell had refused to sign his super shitty, wildly disrespectful, $14.5 million franchise tag contract, and could legally continue to do so up until week 11.
This brings us to the meat and bones of this article: reasons not to be mad at Bell:
Owning him in Fantasy doesn’t mean you own him in real life
While this seems super obvious, some people have difficulty looking beyond point totals to see NFL players as human beings. The more common version of this which was addressed beautifully by ESPN Fantasy writer/crystal ball Matthew Berry is when people tweet hate at players for poor production weeks in an article (that for the life of me I cannot find to put in a hyperlink). The basic premise was that players have outside lives that can affect their play, or in Bell’s case, his decision not to. The most important thing to remember is that it is still his decision to make, since it has the greatest impact on his life, not yours.
$14.5 Million is a slap in the face
While salary caps cause countless headaches for teams across the league, forcing them in some cases to slash harder than smiling moron who hates literacy, the answer is almost never to go after the contract of arguably your team’s best player. By using the franchise tag on Bell for the last two years in a row, the Steelers aimed at first to strategically stall on negotiations, and now seemingly to run him into the ground by forcing him to play for a weak, short term, salary while his counterparts, such as Todd Gurley II who signed a 4 year $60 mil contract with $45 mil in guarantees and a $20 mil signing bonus, ball out. In doing so, the Steelers send the message that they would rather Bell hate them and leave for another team as soon as he can, than give him a real contract. Therefore, when you put yourself in his shoes, it’s impossible to be mad at Le’Veon for giving the Steelers the middle finger.
As is human nature, it can be easy to externally attribute our failures to someone like Le’Veon, rather than reflecting it inwardly on ourselves. For any sheep who blindly followed the fantasy draft projections and chose Bell, choosing to ignore the signs all summer as rumors circulated of him sitting out the season was your own fault. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should have passed on him, as he is well worth a first round draft pick even with his risk, but rather any skilled fantasy owner should never have all of their hopes resting in one player. Anyone who expects their top pick to carry them to a championship deserves nothing more than a contract holdout as with Bell, or an early season injury as with David Johnson last year. Thus, due to my drafting skill, I have no worries even if my top pick doesn’t play until week 11 because I have plenty of other weapons with which to craft my victory.