The deadline for the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign running back Le’Veon Bell to long-term contract has now passed and the indication is that it did so without a deal being struck.
Assuming no surprising reports to the contrary surface in the next hour, Bell’s only choice at that point will be to play the 2018 season under the one-year, $14.544 million franchise tag that was issued to him just prior to the start of the league year in March.
Bell has obviously yet to sign that tag and all signs are that he won’t until after the 2018 preseason is completed, at the earliest. In other words, Bell is expected to bypass the remainder of the offseason just as he did last season.
While there has been speculation that Bell could ultimately decide to sit out until Week 10 before signing his tag, which would presumably be an effort on his part to preserve his body for the 2019 free agency signing period, and ultimately the regular season that would follow, it’s hard to imagine he would go that far and especially being as he would sacrifice a little more than $850,000 a week in pay in the process.
In all likelihood, 2018 will now be Bell’s final season in Pittsburgh as a member of the Steelers. While the organization will have the right to franchise Bell a third-consecutive time ahead of the start of the 2019 league year, a true franchise tag would be the equivalent to the quarterback amount, roughly $25 million. That’s not likely to happen.
The Steelers, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, could also choose to use the transition tag on Bell, but in doing so, they would only have the right to match any offer Bell would receive from another team. In using that transition tag, the Steelers would also tie up roughly $17.42 million in 2019 salary cap space while they wait to see if he receives any offers. Additionally, the Steelers wouldn’t receive any immediate compensation for Bell should they choose not to match any offer he were to receive from another team. In short, going the transition tag route isn’t likely to happen, either.
Bell, the Steelers second-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns in his first five seasons in the NFL with the Steelers in addition to catching 312 passes for another 2,660 yards and 7 touchdowns. He has played in 62 total regular season games with the Steelers in addition to four playoff contests.
At this point, it will now be interesting to see if any reports surface indicating what the Steelers best and final offer to Bell was.