Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is having a fantastic 2016 season and he will be rewarded handsomely for it during the offseason. While it shouldn’t come as a surprise, a Friday morning report by Adam Schefter of ESPN indicates that the Steelers plan on using the franchise tag on Bell ahead of the start of the 2017 league year.
“Here’s what Pittsburgh’s game plan likely will be, according to sources around the league: The Steelers are expected to use the $12.377 million franchise tag on Bell, restricting his ability to go to another team, while trying to hammer out a long-term extension in the offseason,” Schefter reported Friday. “This would provide the Steelers with the protection they would need for a player who is as good as any in the game, but who has been suspended twice and is one strike away from a 10-game suspension.”
Edit: It is worth pointing out Schefter is incorrect on Bell being one strike away from a 10 game suspension. As part of his reduced suspension/settlement, any next failed test would lead to another four game ban. Not ten.
Schefter goes on to say that he fully expects a long-term deal with the Steelers to be worked out that will likely make him one of the highest-paid running backs in the league. He adds, “Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin have developed a close relationship. The two men will want to do right by each other.”
While it’s still a bit early to worry about how contract negotiations will eventually play out with Bell after he’s ultimately issued the franchise tag, former NFL agent Joel Corry wrote extensively about Bell this past September and how he could be the litmus test for high-end running back compensation in 2017. It’s definitely worth a read.
In short, when and if Bell does ultimately sign a long-term contract with the Steelers, you can probably count on it having a yearly average value in the neighborhood of his franchise tag amount. As usual, guarantees and cash flow will play a huge part in those negotiations. Now, there’s always a chance that the two sides could strike a deal prior to the franchise tag being placed on Bell, but as we sit here in the middle of December, I think I’ll be surprised if that ultimately happens.
As long as Bell stays healthy and keeps producing like he has so far this season, it might be in his best interest to force the Steelers hand when it comes to them using the franchise tag on him.
You can rest assured that I’ll be speculating more on Bell’s future status in the coming weeks and months.