Player: Le’Veon Bell
Position: Running Back
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2017 Salary Cap Hit: $12,120,000
2017 Season Breakdown:
The Steelers have really struggled to have Le’Veon Bell for a full season, from the start to the finish. While he didn’t miss a meaningful snap in 2017, he did miss the entire offseason. Much of that was recovering from groin surgery, but he acknowledged that he stayed away at the end because he was tagged, and it was part of his ‘plan’ to remain healthy.
That plan didn’t work out so great as far as performing well was concerned, as he struggled through the first several games, but he did gradually find his footing and had a strong season, once again earning All-Pro honors.
His first big game of the season came against the Ravens, rushing for nearly 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and adding another 42 receiving yards. This was the game that signaled he was back and still capable of being the same player that got him franchise tagged for over $12 million for the season.
In fact, he rushed for over 130 yards in three of the four games beginning with that one, with a season-high 179 against the Chiefs. But the truth is that through much of the season, his yardage was about grinding out yards. That only really began to change toward the end of the year. He averaged over 4.5 yards per attempt over the final five weeks.
He also had a great run as a pass-catcher late in the year. During one three-game span, he caught 26 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the postseason game that stood out though. While he did not get a lot of carries, he ran well—when there was blocking, as he was blown up when there wasn’t—but he especially caught the ball well, with nine receptions for 88 yards and a spectacular touchdown reception.
Free Agency Outlook:
Well, this is the question, isn’t it? Will Bell be on the Steelers in 2018? What about 2019? This is the greatest unknown for the team this offseason. Art Rooney II has gone on record as saying that they want to work out a long-term deal and that it could come down to the wire.
As for Bell, he doesn’t sound like he wants to play under the tag again, and has even threatened to retire, though of course he won’t. There are way too many millions to leave on the table by doing that. But he certainly would hold out throughout the offseason, and perhaps even into the season.
The Steelers cleared cap space yesterday, but we don’t know what that means just yet, if anything. The team can tag him beginning in about a week and a half or so, and will have from then until the start of free agency. If he is tagged, they’ll have until July to work out a deal.