The franchise tag gave Bell $12.12 million last season. If he’s stays on it again in 2018, it would pay him $14.544 million. While that’s a nice chunk of change, Bell wants a commitment from his team that’s never been seen in NFL history. He just might get it, too.
“I believe I am [confident]. ... I think with both sides wanting to get something done. ... I think that certainly aids your ability to get that done,” GM Kevin Colbert said in mid-February, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He added, “We do know that Le’Veon has been a great player for us. We think he can still be a great player from this point forward, and we would love to have him to be with the Steelers for the rest of his career.”
There was some optimism earlier in the week that Bell and the Steelers might come to terms on a multi-year deal ahead of the franchise tag deadline on Tuesday, March 6. But that didn’t happen.
Why are the Steelers going to franchise tag Bell again?
The Steelers will have to place the tag on Bell so he won’t hit the free agent market. This will be the second consecutive season that Bell has received the tag.
Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and has been since his breakout 2014 season where he earned his first All-Pro nod. He was an All-Pro again in 2017, after getting a league-high 321 carries, 1,291 rush yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He had another productive year receiving as well with a career-high 85 catches, 655 yards (third-best on the Steelers), and two touchdowns. Coming into this season, no player had averaged more yards from scrimmage per game than Bell in his first four NFL seasons.
Getting the franchise tag is not what Bell wants. He’s made that perfectly clear over the past two years, and most recently he’s said that he would consider retirement if given the tag again. But it was a move that the Steelers had to make so that they don’t let arguably the NFL’s best running back walk away for nothing.
But it appears that he’s set on getting a long-term deal done before playing another down of football. He was willing to hold out last season until September, though he ended up playing on the one-year tag.
Can they still get a deal done?
Yes. The Steelers have until 4 p.m. ET on July 16 to reach a multi-year contract extension with Bell before he’s forced to play 2018 on a one-year deal.
If a deal isn’t reached by then, it’s not inconceivable that Bell would sit out regular season games until a deal gets done. He also told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he wasn’t bluffing about a possible retirement.
“I just have to decide if I’m going to play when the time comes,” Bell said.
If things somehow got very ugly, a trade wouldn’t be out of the question for Bell either as a last resort for the Steelers, although it seems unlikely.
It’s just going to be pricey.
Two years ago he said in a rap lyric “Imma need 15 a year and they know this,” which seems like a clear ask of $15 million per year from Pittsburgh. He expanded that number to $17 million in another rap in August a year later. If Bell were to get that much money, he would be more than doubling the record at the position, with Devonta Freeman’s $8.25 million per year currently the high.
That would probably be a discount, considering what he said about how much money it would take for him to play with the New York Jets:
Despite all the talk, there’s still time for Bell and the Steelers to get a deal done that makes both sides happy. For now, they aren’t there, but it’s being worked on.
“We’re not coming to a number we both agree on -- they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high,” Bell said via ESPN. “I’m playing for strictly my value to the team. That’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at.”
He told Fowler that he plans on sticking to his number (which he didn’t reveal).
“I’m the one to bet on myself. And I’ll do it again,” Bell said via ESPN. “I understand how the Steelers do contracts. Last year, I was pounding the table on guaranteed money. That’s not the case. If I’m not getting guaranteed money, I want a lot more up front. ... It’s year-to-year with the Steelers. Essentially if I sign a four- or five-year deal, I’m playing four or five franchise tags.
”Earlier I said I felt we would get one done, and this year we are a lot closer than last year. In good spirit, I feel we can get something done. But unless something drastic changes, it won’t be [this week].”
Bell has made it clear that he wants to stay with the only NFL team he’s ever played for:
Pittsburgh: the city that took in a 21-year old kid from small-town Ohio, the city I battled thru adversity in, the city that I became a man in. I love everything about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt! #26Forever pic.twitter.com/mhs2ikpK71— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) March 6, 2018
He’s too talented of a player for the Steelers to just let out of their grasp. He wants to join Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown in receiving his long-term deal.
“Both of those guys got what they deserved,” Bell said via ESPN. “I feel I’m next in line.”