With three 2018 preseason games now in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team is still waiting for franchise tagged running Le’Veon Bell to show up and sign his tender. That’s obviously unlikely to happen this coming week and assuming it doesn’t, we figure to have a repeat of what happened last year and that means the Steelers essentially having a 54-man roster for several days.
I wrote about this same topic last year at around this same time and if you need a recap of what ultimately transpired that seemingly worked out in the Steelers favor, I’m about to give it to you.
Last year the Steelers played their final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, August 31 and the next day, September 1, Bell showed up at the Steelers facility to take his physical. At that time, however, he didn’t sign his franchise tag as that event didn’t take place until Monday, September 4. That same day, the Steelers asked for and received a roster exemption for Bell up to two weeks.
That process with Bell resulted in the Steelers essentially being able to carry 54 players, and not 53, on September 2. That extra roster spot for all practical purposes went to cornerback Cameron Sutton, who needed to be on the initial Week 1 roster so that he could be moved to the team’s Reserve/Injured list in order to be eligible for a designated to return tag later in the season. Once Sutton was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list on Monday, September 4, linebacker Steven Johnson, who had just be released that previous Saturday, was re-signed.
The Steelers ultimately didn’t need the two week roster exemption for Bell, so they activated him to their 53-man roster on Saturday, September 9 so that he would be eligible to play in their Sunday, September 10 regular season road opener against the Cleveland Browns. To make room for Bell on the 53-man roster, Johnson was cut again.
It’s hard to believe that the Steelers won’t take advantage of this 54-man roster loophole again this year as it’s their right to ask for and receive another roster exemption for Bell due to him holding out a second consecutive summer. If that’s what transpires, which player will potentially benefit from it?
You could make a strong argument that rookie running back Jaylen Samuels might benefit from the Steelers having a 54-man roster in the next few weeks. Him, or fellow running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. After all, the team will want to make sure that all is good with Bell from a football conditioning standpoint as soon as he arrives back in Pittsburgh and Samuels would be good protection should they decide to hold the All-Pro running back out for their Week 1 road game against the Browns. I’m not saying they’ll go that route and keep Bell on the exempt list for Week 1, but it is an option they’ll have nonetheless.
As of right now, the Steelers don’t appear as though they’ll need to carry a severely injured player on their initial Week 1 roster in order to then make a move to the Reserve/Injured list for a later designated to return classification. That, however, could change depending on what ultimately happens in their Thursday night preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.
Are you a fan of fourth quarterback Joshua Dobbs sticking around a few extra days in perhaps an effort to get him safely through waivers and to the practice squad? Having a 54th roster spot for a few days because of Bell would certainly facilitate such a scenario. Maybe you would like to see another young player kept a few extra days, instead.
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote on Sunday, Article 20, Section 4 of the CBA permits the Steelers to place Bell on roster-exempt status for up to two weeks of the regular season. Section 4(a) specifically requires the Steelers and Bell to agree in writing as to what his compensation will be while on roster-exempt status. Read whatever else you want into that and make sure you have your tin foil hat strapped on tightly while doing so.
Obviously, should the Steelers decide to remove Bell from the exempt list the Saturday before their Sunday road opener against the Browns, they would need to cut a player to make room for him on their 53-man roster. However, such a cut should result in said player safely passing through waivers should they need to be exposed to it.
For now, and assuming Bell doesn’t show up and sign his franchise tag tender before the cut to 53 takes place, you might want to account for him being on an exempt list as part of your final 53-man roster predictions. After all, there’s a good chance he won’t actually be on the Steelers 53-man roster until two weeks from yesterday at the earliest.