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With Draft In Rear View, Time To Take Le’Veon Bell Off Back Burner

The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone, which means it’s time to take a few things off the back burner that have been slowly simmering over the course of the past month or so in preparation for that most important of offseason events. This is true of every team, but especially so for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

General Manager Kevin Colbert talked about the fact that the Steelers tabled contract negotiations with running back Le’Veon Bell while the team was working on preparing for the draft. But now we’re on the other side of that fence, so presumably that means it’s time to start talking contracts again.

The sixth-year running back was given the franchise tag for the second season in a row after contract negotiations never materialized in a deal both sides could agree on last year. I wouldn’t say that there is a lot of optimism that the second year of negotiations will get them much closer.

But there’s only one way to be sure, and that is to keep hammering away. The Steelers have until the middle of July to work out a long-term extension with their first-team All-Pro running back, who is coming off the first season of his career in which he remained healthy throughout.

Bell is already counting roughly $14.5 million against the cap, which is an annual total that leaves all other running back contracts in its vast shadow by comparison, at least in the current running back market, though one wonders what it will look like a couple of years from now.

The Steelers have reportedly gone up as high as about $13.3 million per season in annual salary. Are they willing to go any higher than that? Bell has rapped about wanting $15 million per season, but has even seemed to hint at wanting more than that.

The truth is that we have heard so many different things over the course of the past year and then some that it’s very difficult to discriminate between fact and fiction when it comes to the contract negotiations, how they have developed, and what Bell’s position really is.

One thing we do know is that the Steelers have not seriously addressed the running back position this offseason. While they re-signed free agents Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley, the two of them would likely at best be competing for the third spot on the roster.

Pittsburgh used one of its seven selections in the draft on a player they are calling a running back in Jaylen Samuels, though he is not explicitly a traditional back. He may have the size to develop into that role in time, but it does not reflect the manner in which he was used at the college level. As a fifth-round pick, his first goal is to simply make the roster.

Will Bell be emboldened by Pittsburgh’s light hand in addressing the running back position? They had the opportunity to draft Derrius Guice in the first round, if they wanted to. They did not, though there may have been extenuating circumstances.

You can probably bet that the next time we hear from one of the higher ups, they will be asked about Bell and the contract negotiations. Have they resumed already? Is there meaningful progress? Do they remain optimistic that a deal can be reached?

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