By the end of the day—perhaps even by the time that this article is published, and even more likely, by the time that you read this—the Pittsburgh Steelers will have placed the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell for the 2018 season, according to Bell himself.
When he actually signs that tag is a far less certain proposition. He only signed his franchise tag last year after the final preseason game, and reported to the team something like a week before the opening game of the season, hardly getting in any meaningful practice time.
The two sides had from early March to mid-July to work out a long-term deal a year ago, and it didn’t get done. There was more optimism about something happening this year, and Bell has said that the Steelers were willing to up their offer some, but that it was not enough for him to accept.
So, say goodbye to Le’Veon Bell after this season, barring something out of the ordinary, because that is what the writing on the wall reads. If the two sides have not been able to work out a deal for over a year now, there is no reason to believe that that is likely to change over the course of the next few months.
And trying to retain him by any other means beyond a contract in 2019 would be prohibitively expensive. He would cost over $20 million next year being as he would have to have quarterback tag.
The Steelers are not going to pay Bell more than Antonio Brown, even for one season. It doesn’t make sense relative to the position, and it doesn’t fit into their team salary structure. It would also be a disaster for the salary cap, needless to say.
But, oh yeah, if you want to tag a player a third time, you have to pay him the quarterback’s tag rate, regardless of his position, assuming that that value is at least 120 percent of the value of his current contract or more. Yikes.
While Bell may have Tweeted yesterday, saying “love everything about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt”, it’s clear that there is something that he wants more, and that is to be paid at an entirely new standard for what he brings on offense.
That is fair, but it is also at odds with what he said. The Steelers are not going to be able to pay him what he wants, and he is going to have to get that somewhere else. Chances are, in 2019 he will show what he wants more, which is the money over remaining in Pittsburgh.
That is not meant as a disparagement. He is fully within his rights to do that, and he has no obligation to be a fan of the Steelers and to boost its legacy by accepting less money than he believe he can get elsewhere.
That’s just the fact of the matter. Or at least that is likely how the next year will unfold, unless one party or another surprises us. Technically speaking, there are still four more months remaining in the contract talk window for tagged players to get something done. But I don’t think anybody is expecting that to happen at this point.