There has been a lot of talk about artificial deadlines over the course of the past couple of months pertaining to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their negotiations with running back Le’Veon Bell, with both sides working toward completing a long-term deal, and thus avoiding the franchise tag for a second season.
Bell, who turned in another first-team All-Pro season in 2017 while playing under the franchise tag worth over $12 million, would be set to earn over $14.5 million this season if he were to be given the franchise tag a second year in a row with a long-term deal not being completed.
Soon after the season ended, the running back talked to reporters about his contract status and expressed optimism, even noting that they had an ‘artificial deadline’ of wanting to complete the deal ‘before they can tag me’, or something to that effect.
The more meaningful deadline would actually be in three days, on March 6, which is the final day that teams can apply the franchise tag to players. Either the Steelers will have completed a long-term contract with him by then, or, chances are, they will give him the tag.
(This also means that we should expect to see some moves made quickly in the next couple of days either way, as they still have cap space to clear if they get Bell under contract. Possibly moves would include releasing Mike Mitchell or negotiating the contracts of Antonio Brown and/or Alejandro Villanueva).
On Wednesday, General Manager Kevin Colbert seemed in a good place regarding the status of the negotiations. “I can say this, I’m optimistic”, he told reporters at the Combine. Both sides have expressed optimism about completing a deal throughout the process.
Yesterday, one beat writer provided another layer to the story as we approach the first meaningful deadline. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider Tweeted that “folks with the Steelers are feeling confident that Le’Veon Bell will re-sign with the team”.
That isn’t nothing, though it might also not be much of ‘something’. Members of the organization can feel confident all they want, but as Colbert cautioned earlier this week, “the common ground” in a negotiations “are never final until they’re final”.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last year that Bell “nixed” a five-year contract that would have paid him $42 million over the first three years of the deal. Ed Bouchette wrote that his agent had essentially agreed to the deal in principle, but the running back rejected it prior to signing.
Assuming that that was an accurate report, I am betting that the front office was feeling confident and optimistic about getting a deal done at that time as well, but it didn’t happen. It either happens or it doesn’t.
The first important deadline is on Tuesday. After that, the two sides can still continue to negotiate through mid-July. But if it doesn’t get done now, one ought not get too optimistic about it happening later, because neither side wants to see the franchise tag put in play.