Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports
DEVIN ABELL | OPINION COLUMNIST | firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re like me, you spend Sunday afternoons in front of the TV watching football and ignoring all your responsibilities for upcoming week. Football is a great way to bring people together and enjoy time with friends and family. For those of us who just can’t get enough, however, fantasy football extends the magic of football — and the procrastination.
Fantasy footballers create leagues with friends, family and co-workers by drafting players from all teams and positions to a team of their own invention and set a lineup to compete against other owners in their league. Fantasy football is scored in a head-to-head format with a rotating schedule, resulting in a new opponent every week.
I’ve found through my fantasy football experience I have met new people and made friends whom I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I’ve build better bonds with my friends and have even formed competitive rivalries with a few.
Every year, the start of the fantasy football season brings joy and excitement for fans. This year, however, brings ones of the biggest disappointments of the fantasy scene to date.
Le’veon Bell, one of the biggest stars in the NFL, has refused to play a down this season because of a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team he is signed to play for this year. Although Bell wants a long-term contract with the team, neither side was able to come to an agreement. This has resulted in running back being placed under the franchise tag.
The franchise tag is used when a player is to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year. This is used to prevent players from leaving in free agency.
This isn’t the first time the Steelers have refused to pay the contract Bell desired. He was also signed under the franchise tag for the 2017 season.
Bell sought to prove that he deserved a new contract, and he did so by racking up a historical season last year. Pro Football Reference recorded that Bell lead all running back in carries (321) and receptions (85). He also finished second among all players in total scrimmage yards (1,946). In terms of fantasy football, Bell finished 2nd among running backs in fantasy points scored in standard (257) and points-per-reception (342) formats.
Speaking as a fantasy owner who had Bell on his roster in the past, I can say his presence is a game changer. There was nothing that brought me more joy than watching him single-handedly carry my team — week in and week out — to victory over my opponents. No matter the opponent Bell’s team was scheduled to play that week, I could always count on him to produce in bulk.
According to FantasyPros.com, Bell was the consensus No. 2 overall pick in fantasy drafts this year, resulting in owners paying a high price to get what they believed would great centerpiece for their team. With Bell not playing, owners have now have a huge hole to fill in his absence.
Tom Bennett, a first-year sports media major, said he believes owners of Bell were cheated out of a first round pick.
“[My] brother drafted him second overall and has completely messed up his roster,” Bennett said. “He could’ve gotten another workhorse back and it has made it so he doesn’t have a first round pick on his team.”
First-year accounting major Mitch Holderby said that teams impacted by Bell’s absence will struggle to maintain their competitive edge.
“If you don’t have a stud like Bell or Todd Gurley, who get a lot of carries, you’re in for a rough season,” Holderby said.
Holderby is right on the money! According to NFL.com, the most owned players on championship teams for fantasy football were Todd Gurley (47.1%) and Le’Veon Bell (26.9%). This means 74 percent of champions have a workhorse running back on their team, it’s pretty important to have a player like Bell on your team if you want to be successful.
Bell’s absence has frustrated a lot of his fantasy owners and has made their experience less enjoyable. Players have had to make do with Bell’s absence and work around it to try to get their season back on track.
All hope isn’t lost, however. If you’re a Le’Veon Bell owner, you have probably found a back-up in James Conner. In his first game, he had 31 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns while adding five receptions for 57 yards, meaning Conner has done well to substitute for Bell’s absence.
The Steelers, however, played a young Cleveland Browns team and were coming off a laughable 0-16 record from the previous season. Conner’s performance is a fluke, instilling doubt in owners that he can keep up this kind of production.
Some Le’veon Bell owners, on the other hand, were unable to pick up Conner because they were beaten to it by leaguemates. This is a big leg up for the lucky owners who managed to snag Conner for their teams, who now have a player on their roster with the workhorse level of touches that Bell would have had, while the actual Bell owners will have nothing but zero points and sadness.
For those of us who live for a good fantasy football season, I can personally tell you there is no better feeling than when your team is doing well. You feel like you’re on cloud nine and nothing can stop you. The flip side, however, is the dumpster fire of a roster that occasionally — yet inevitably — finds its way into your life. Death by fire and watching your team fail abysmally are basically synonymous in the fantasy world.
All in all, it’s time for the Steelers to sign Bell to the contract he wants and get him back on the field. I’m not just saying it for fantasy owners — although I’m really feeling for them — it’s for the team too.
As of now, however, there is no end in site for this holdout. Both sides are at a standstill and neither are looking to budge. No one can tell what the future will bring for Bell. The NFL world and fantasy football players will continue to follow this closely as the season goes on.
“Bell should be out there on the field,” Holderby said. “A franchise tag is still a pretty good lump sum of money… If your dream is to be an NFL player, you should want to play. Your love for the game should outweigh your love for money.”
Hopefully Bell gets lovesick for the game soon and returns to doing what he does best: scoring touchdowns and making fantasy owners happy.