The Pittsburgh Steelers still have a few more months until they need to decide whether or not to place the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell again. On Thursday, however, Bell delivered a warning shot of sorts to the Steelers concerning him possibly being franchise tagged a second consecutive year.
“It will eventually come down to me playing on the tag or not,” Bell said Thursday, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “They tag me again, it will be me (saying), ‘OK, do I want to play on the tag or do I not want to play on the tag?’ That’s what it comes down to. If I was a free agent and they let me go, be a free agent, then yeah, I’m going to go explore free agency, test the market.”
In short, Bell said on Thursday that he’s prepared to sit out the entire 2018 season, or perhaps even retire, if the Steelers franchise him again during the offseason.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I would definitely consider it,” Bell reportedly said before Thursday’s practice.
Last year the Steelers tagged Bell and failed to work out long term contract extension with him prior to the offseason NFL deadline to do so. That resulted in him being forced to play under one-year, $12.12 million franchise tag contract once he signed it which was after the team’s training camp and preseason was over. At that time, Bell made it clear that he expected to be paid as both a starting running back and a No. 2 wide receiver being as catches so many passes.
Bell reportedly turned down a multi-year contract from the Steelers prior to last year’s deadline that would have paid him roughly $30 million in the first two years and $42 million through the first three years of the deal.
Should the Steelers ultimately place the franchise tag on Bell again during the quickly approaching offseason, it will come with a $14.54 million price tag. At that point, Bell would likely want a long-term contract extension that averaged much more than $15 million a year.
“Just get the numbers straight exactly where we want them,” Bell said. “I’m not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at.”
Bell led the NFL this season in total snaps played by a running back and finished second in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 1,946. He touched the football a career-high 406 times in the 15 games that he played in.
The Steelers usually don’t like to be bullied into deals so it will be interesting to see how they handle Bell during the offseason. They might just decide to tag him again and let Bell decide if he wants to sit out the season. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being able to work out a ,long term contract extension with Bell at any point during the offseason. For all we know, they might decide to not tag him at all and let him test free agency.
“I want to be here, finish my career here,” Bell said. “But, if not, I’ll just handle it however I’ve got to handle it.”
The first day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players is February 20th and the deadline for those decisions is March 6th.