- Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to agree on a long-term contract by Monday’s deadline.
- According to a report, Bell could sit out half of the year to save his body for free agency next offseason.
- Doing so would be a significant risk for Bell, but it would be an attempt to secure a lucrative long-term contract that’s uncommon for running backs in the NFL today.
The deadline to sign long-term contracts in the NFL passed on Monday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell did not reach a deal.
For the second straight season, Bell is slated to play on the one-year franchise tag. This year, the tag will pay him about $14.5 million.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers and Bell negotiated long-term deals, with the Steelers offering deals that started around $13 million and gradually increased. According to Fowler, Bell rejected them, refusing to take less than something equal to the $14.5 million tag.
Bell has reportedly wanted to be paid like a top running back and a top wide receiver. The highest-paid running back this season is the Atlanta Falcons’ DeVonta Freeman at $8.25 million, while the highest-paid receiver on average is the Steelers’ Antonio Brown at $17 million.
With Bell once again on the franchise tag, he could make a dramatic move to help himself and hurt the Steelers. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on Sirius XM on Monday that Bell could hold out for half the season to preserve his body before hitting free agency next season.
"The goal at that point would be to hit 2019 free agency healthy, not rack up another 400 touches."
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) July 16, 2018
Last year, Bell had 321 carries and 85 targets. He has topped 330 total touches in three of the past four seasons. The idea behind sitting for half of the year would be to preserve himself and limit his overall mileage heading into free agency, where running backs often struggle to command huge deals.
Doing so would also come at a significant cost for Bell. According to CBS’s Jared Dubin, he would lose almost $7 million in salary if he were to sit out for eight games. It’s also unclear how much he would benefit from missing half the season and hitting free agency with 200 fewer overall touches. Bell skipped training camp and preseason last year to hold out for a long-term deal and averaged his fewest yards per carry since his rookie year during the regular season.
It feels as though the situation with Bell and the Steelers may be reaching a breaking point. Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari told Schefter on Monday after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement that it may be Bell’s last season with the Steelers.
“His intention was to retire as a Steeler,” Bakari said. “But now that there’s no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler.”
Bakari added, “It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player.”
The Steelers in a statement said they will continue negotiations with Bell next offseason, while Bell in a statement said he wants to retire a Steeler and that 2018 will be his best season yet.
Kirk Cousins could offer a path for Bell to follow. Cousins played two years on the franchise tag for the Washington Redskins. He hit free agency this offseason, and the Redskins declined to extend a third, even-more-lucrative franchise tag. Cousins got a three-year, fully guaranteed, $84 million contract.
Bell won’t make that type of money, but as an elite running back and strong pass-catcher, if Bell plays and plays well in 2018, perhaps some team will pay him the money he’s seeking.