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Bouchette Doesn’t Think Steelers Will Sign Bell To Long-Term Deal Prior To Deadline

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped up their mandatory minicamp, there’s right at four weeks remaining before the team has to have running back Le’Veon Bell signed to a long-term deal if they don’t want him to play under the franchise tag in 2017. As is usually the case when it comes to opinions on whether or not a new deal for a franchised player ultimately gets done, people are split.

When it comes to Steelers longtime Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, specifically, he said a few days ago during an interview on 93.7 The Fan that it’s in his belief that Bell won’t be signed long-term come the July 15 deadline.

“I’ve told everybody that I’ve talked to, I don’t think the deal’s going to get done, the long-term deal,” Bouchette said.

Bouchette also indicated during his interview that he’s a little miffed by Bell’s decision to not yet sign his $12.12 million franchise tender thus far.

“I don’t know about you, but I would have been there with three pens in case the other two didn’t work to sign that contract,” Bouchette said. “Because until he does, he doesn’t have a contract. He’s not required to be here because of that, but I don’t know if he’s trying to make a statement, or what, because even if he were here, they wouldn’t be practicing him because of the groin surgery. He would just be on the sideline watching.”

Bell not yet signing his franchise tender is a bit of head-scratcher, but not a totally foreign decision just the same. I reached out to former NFL agent Joel Corry to get his thoughts on what pros are associated with the Steelers running back not yet doing so.

“It’s used as leverage against an offseason injury and fines,” Corry told me. “He isn’t obligated to participate in mandatory minicamp and can’t be fined since he isn’t under contract.”

So, what if Bell seriously injures himself while training and has yet to sign his franchise tender?

“He would be in a similar situation as Jason Pierre-Paul when he had his fireworks accident,” Corry wrote me.

In case you forgot, Jason Pierre-Paul refused to sign the franchise tender he received from the New York Giants a few years ago and then proceeded to have a fireworks accident on July 4, 2015 that resulted in him losing a few fingers. The Giants then proceeded to rescind the unsigned franchise tender and Pierre-Paul had to settle for an incentive-laden deal worth up to $8.7 million.

So, now that the Steelers offseason program has ended, will Bell now rush to sign his tender? I know I probably would, but that’s just me. I mean, why risk it moving forward? With that said, Corry believes Bell won’t sign his tender.

“No. I will be shocked if Bell signs his tender before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals,” Corry told me. “It’s more likely that he’ll say he won’t play on the franchise tag if a long-term deal is worked out than he’ll sign the tender before July 15.”

Is there a chance Bell signs his tender and ultimately doesn’t sign a long-term deal prior to July 15? Sure there is, but if that ultimately happens, you would really have to wonder at that point if 2017 might ultimately be Bell’s final year in Pittsburgh because franchising him again in 2018 would come at the expense of an estimated tag amount of over $14 million and at that point it would be even harder to get a long-term deal done with him.

As I pointed out sometime ago, Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, also represents current New York Jets running back Matt Forte, who along with former NFL running back Ray Rice, were the last two players to play the position who received the franchise tag. Forte, who was with the Chicago Bears in 2012, also refused to sign his franchise tag that year, if I’m not mistaken. In the end, however, the Bears ultimately worked a new long-term deal with Forte and his agent just before the mid-July deadline.

Additionally, Rice, if memory serves me, also never signed his franchise tag he was issued by the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. Like Forte, however, he also signed a long-term contract just ahead of the deadline.

“It makes sense for everybody to get a long-term deal done,” Bouchette said. “However, what you may think is worth it in money and guaranteed money, may not be what he thinks is worth it in money or guaranteed money, or what the Steelers think. “So, that’s always the stumbling block with contract negotiations is the money. What do you think is fair?”

If the July 15 deadline passes and Bell has yet to sign his tender, the Steelers will be left to the mercy of the running back as it relates to him deciding when he wants to play. In short, sure, he could decide to sit out the whole year if he really wanted to, but such actions certainly wouldn’t sit well with the organization, his teammates included.

Deadlines usually spur actions and while Bouchette firmly believes that Bell won’t sign a long-term deal prior to the July 15 deadline, I will be surprised if he doesn’t. I guess time will only tell which one of us is ultimately right. In closing, be prepared for four more weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he sign a new long-term deal discussions when it comes to Bell as it’s sure to be a main talking point moving forward now that the team’s offseason practices have concluded.

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