It’s probably going to be a while before we hear directly from running back Le’Veon Bell again. Not even his teammates with the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be in much contact with him right now. Some of them even went to bat, citing what they know of him as a person and of his character, saying that he would be here today.
He’s not, and his agent indicates that he might now be here for a while. But he will have to be here about nine weeks from now, at least in order to prevent being forced to sit out the entire season. As Mike Florio writes for Pro Football Talk, the Collective Bargaining Agreement is clear on this topic.
For a player who is under the franchise tag, he can report no later than Week 11 of the regular season in order to be eligible to play that season. See Article 10, Section 15 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement:
(a) In the event that a player who is designated and tendered as a Franchise Player has not signed a Player Contract with a Club by the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, at 4:00pm New York time, the player shall be prohibited from playing football in the NFL for the remainder of that League Year, absent a showing to the Impartial Arbitrator of extreme Club or extreme personal hardship. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be made within five days of the application, and shall consider all information relating to such hardship submitted by such date. The determination of the Impartial Arbitrator shall be final and binding upon all parties.
I think it goes without saying that Bell is not having any kind of hardships. Unless you count fear of playing too much as a hardship, which is apparently his concern, according to his agent. This is something that he hinted at on social media during a practice late last season.
The section continues in commenting on a franchise-tagged player’s status for the following season:
(c) If any Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable Tender must be made and any 120% Tender shall be measured from the Player’s Prior Year Salary. If such a player is redesignated as a Franchise Player for the League Year following the League Year in which he does not play, the player may be designated only under Section 2(a)(i) above, except that Draft Choice Compensation of only one first round draft selection and one third round draft selection 52 shall be made with respect to such player in the event he signs with the New Club.
Florio makes clear in the article that he wrote that the team would be able to tag Bell again next season for $14.55 million, as he was tagged for this year, should he ultimately not report in time this season, thereby forfeiting his 2018 pay.