Opinion: Steelers, Bell, And The Inevitable Impasse That Will Divide Them

Surprise, surprise, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is the topic du jure, and I can’t imagine why. He was the subject of our question of the day. Now he will be the focus of my opinion of the day. I would say it’s not a controversial one, but there is such a diversity of opinions on the subject that I don’t think such an opinion on Bell exists.

So here is what I expect to happen later today, and into the future, and what I think about how the past two years have played out.

Cutting right to the chase, and exposing myself to the possibility of Old Takes Exposed treatment, Le’Veon Bell is not getting a long-term contract by this evening, and he is going to report six days before the 2018 regular season for his final year in Pittsburgh.

Like I said, not a controversial take. It’s one I’ve held pretty much since he was tagged earlier this year, and I imagine is also the popular opinion. And may reasoning is simple: it hasn’t gotten done for the past two years. They’ve already had the 11th-hour deadline and still couldn’t get it done. And he has no added incentive not to dig his heels in.

At the absolute minimum, you have to imagine that Bell will be motivated to save face. There is no way his ego (and I mean this in the psychological sense) can accept a deal identical or roughly comparable to the final one he was offered a year ago.

It wouldn’t justify holding firm last year. The point of doing so in 2017 was to force the hand and get better terms. He’s stated his demands publicly, even lyrically, far too many times to back down now.

Even more ominous is the realization that they are in the now-or-never part of their relationship. He is too close to inevitable unrestricted free agency to accept anything less than a fantastic contract offer. Even last year, he knew that a second franchise tag was in play. A third is not. Which means offers from other teams are coming in March.

Let’s remember, at least in part, how we got here. Bell was a second-round pick in 2013. That means that he got a four-year contract, which ran through the 2016 season. The Steelers could have worked on a long-term extension with him heading into that 2016 season, but they didn’t.

The reasons are understandable. For one thing, he was coming off of a torn MCL. For another, he had just gotten suspended for a second time. There were major question marks about him heading into that critical year, which helped lead us to where we are now.

Neither side, I think, was ever ‘wrong’ at any point in the process. They simply have had diverging priorities, which is entirely understandable. That’s why contracts are negotiations in the first place. Just because a deal is not going to get done—or so I assume—doesn’t mean that there is blame to be assigned.

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