Today is October 31, 2018. It is the first day of the NFL league year in which trades are no longer permitted. The Pittsburgh Steelers watched the trade deadline come and go while doing absolutely nothing about it. They also watched the day come and go without hearing from running back Le’Veon Bell.
But today also officially begins the two-week clock for the sixth-year running back, because he now has exactly 14 days to report to the Steelers—and only the Steelers, the only team he can possibly play for this year barring the franchise tag being rescinded—or otherwise forfeit any opportunity to play in 2018.
I recognize that there is a great deal of fatigue on the topic of Bell at this point. Most people have seemed to have lost any care as to whether or not he ever shows up at all, while a small but vocal minority even want the team to pull the tag and be rid of him for good, if only to stop from hearing his name.
The trade deadline was the final reasonable hurdle against Bell reporting. His few public comments since failing to show up at the beginning of the regular season have made strong indications that he was against being traded, so by not signing the tag, he was able to control that factor.
There were also reports that the Steelers were seeking to trade him, which adds credibility to the notion that he was waiting for the trade deadline to pass before he reports. We have already seen a number of other ‘reports’ fly by the wayside, most notably one from ESPN that indicated that his plan was to show up in time for this past Sunday’s game.
But we are now legitimately in the home stretch with him. Whether or not he ever plays in a Steelers uniform again—at least in all likelihood—will be determined over the course of the next 14 days, because if he fails to report by Week 11, the rules disallow him from playing this season as a franchise tagged player.
The sole remaining point of contention is the matter of the possible roster exemption, and by failing to report for this week, Bell already jeopardizes his ability to play this year, because if the Steelers are granted a two-week exemption and choose to use it, they could prevent him from being able to officially report in time, which would make him ineligible to play.
Every day that we draw closer to the 13th of November is a day in which the odds of Bell not showing up at all increase. Should he actually take that approach, which would be a departure from his and his agent’s public comments, then the Steelers would of course have the full franchise tag value available to them, which can be rolled over into next season. They have already collected 8/17ths of it.