At this time a year ago, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell officially returned to the team, Labor Day, the Monday before the first regular season game.
Well, today is Labor Day, the Monday before the Steelers’ first regular season game. We still don’t know whether or not he is going to show up (at least as of the time of this writing), but I have a hard time imagining that he doesn’t. I just see so little for him to gain by not reporting now.
There was a report last week claiming that Bell informed some of his teammates that he would indeed be reporting today. He called that report fake news—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not actually true. It could simply mean that he didn’t want that information known.
What he is not doing is holding out, at least in the sense that the term is used. A player is said to be holding out when he wants his contract to be redone in better terms that favor him. Both sides know that this is literally off the table until the end of the season because he is on the franchise tag.
The only real incentive he could possibly have, other than avoiding injury, is hoping that the Steelers rescind the franchise tag, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent immediately. I’m not sure how many teams right now would have the sort of cap space to be able to sign him, however. I’m sure there are more than a few.
This is not a move the Steelers would be likely to make, however, because ultimately it would not cost them. Every week of the regular season (that is week, not game) that Bell misses from this point forward will cost him one seventeenth of the franchise tag value that he has yet to sign, which is north of $14.5 million. If he holds out for a month, he costs himself comfortably over $3 million.
And in the meantime, Pittsburgh moves on with a trio of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Stevan Ridley, which seems to me a competent group that would be able to run the offense as a complement to the pass-catching wide receivers and tight ends.
Bell’s goal is to position himself to maximize his earning potential heading into the 2019 offseason. The best way to do that is to have the best season that he possibly can. And the best way to do that is, quite frankly, to get to work today.
The reality is that he is not getting any younger. Under normal circumstances, he would have already signed a long-term extension in 2016 as he was heading into his fourth season, the final year on his rookie contract. Now he’s looking to do that three years and over 1000 touches later, though the market for the position is suddenly (potentially) much different.