Le’Veon Bell’s teammates cited what they know of him in arguing that they fully expected he would show up today in order to participate in what would ordinarily be the first practice session of a regular season work week. The Pittsburgh Steelers have already expressed their disappointment in his no-show status.
Earlier today, his agent seemed to confirm that his client’s intention is to sit out an extended period of the regular season, with an eye toward limiting the workload that he puts on his body as he prepares to enter unrestricted free agency as a seventh-year player in 2019, for the first time in his career.
Adisa Bakari said during an interview months ago that his client had the same plan for this season as he did last year, barring something exceptional occurring. That plan was to report on Labor Day and participate at the beginning of the regular season.
Then Aaron Donald happened, apparently. Or maybe his mind was made up as early as Todd Gurley’s deal. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Right now, Bell is both working for and against his own best interests, with an eye toward the future while sacrificing the present.
Quite literally, in fact, because if he indeed chooses to sit out for the majority of the season, he is also going to lose millions of dollars in the process. He will essentially be closing rescinding his own franchise tag on a week-by-week basis.
Which, for me, opens up the possibility of rescinding it altogether.
Now, for those of you who are familiar with my writing, this should come to you as a surprise. It surprised me. But then Bell’s choices over the past several days have surprised me as well. I anticipated that he would not miss a meaningful game.
I’m not arguing that the Steelers ought to rescind the franchise tag offer right now, or even at all. But I have reached the point at which I believe it’s fair to put that option on the table. The franchise tag can be rescinded at any point, so no decision would need to be made now.
In order for the rescinding option to make sense, however, it would have to become necessary that Bell proves to be a greater liability than asset. At the moment, he is proving to be a distraction, an annoyance that is beginning to grow on his teammates, and quite frankly, a bad teammate. That begins to tip the scales in that direction.
In the meantime, the offense will run with James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Stevan Ridley. The Steelers will have between now and whenever Bell feels like showing up to evaluate the running back position to help make a decision about whether or not they may be better-served pulling the tag.
In doing so, the team would forfeit any compensatory pick they might get for whatever deal Bell would sign next offseason, as high as the 97th pick in the 2020 NFL draft. They would also free up whatever the balance would be on his franchise tag offer in the meantime, which would also carry into the 2019 offseason for use.
The circumstances will likely change dramatically over the course of the next couple of months. Bell may even show up in the meantime. He may show contrition for going incognito on his own teammates and coaches. That would help. And the Steelers wouldn’t be losing any money—in fact, gaining—while he remains away.
But I think his own actions have allowed the possibility of rescinding the tag entirely—not now, but perhaps four to six weeks from now if he fails to report—on the table. Previously, I don’t even imagine that it was a realistic option from the Steelers’ perspective. Now? I’m not so sure.