The Steelers have not had contact with Le’Veon Bell this week and they do not expect the running back to report in time for Thursday night’s game against the Panthers, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter) hears. Bell’s debut may come on Nov. 18 against the Jaguars, but some uncertainty’s emerged on this front.
Bell must report to the Steelers by Nov. 13 in order to play this season, but contrary to what ESPN and other outlets have previously reported, he does not have to report to the Steelers by a certain date to get an accrued season to become eligible for free agency. Bell already has played the four-plus seasons he needs to become a free agent after the season.
The two-time All-Pro running back has missed out on more than $7MM and could conceivably wind up on the Steelers’ exempt list, which would allow the franchise to pay Bell at its discretion. Now that Bell has already missed out on half of his franchise tag salary ($14.1MM), would be merely sit out the season?
“[It] doesn’t make any sense for [Bell] to play now,” a source told ESPN. “If he doesn’t want to play for $14.5MM, why would he want to play for $5MM?”
Bell returning would net him millions, but he’s already sacrificed nearly eight figures to stay healthy for free agency. While a return would allow him to minimize his workload, he could still be injured during Pittsburgh’s stretch run and ruin this bold strategy’s purpose in advance of a potential March windfall.
If Bell does not report, the Steelers will have the right to franchise tag him for a third time, but at the rate of a second tag.
Despite his differences with the Steelers, Bell refused to go along with a midseason trade in order to give himself the best opportunity to showcase himself before free agency. It remains to be seen whether that was a smart move. When Bell returns, he may be in a timeshare with his one-time backup, James Conner, and that could hurt his value in the spring.
Even without one of the game’s most talented running backs, the Steelers have looked the part of a contender thanks to Conner’s play. On Sunday, the Steelers improved to 5-2-1 on the year as Conner ran for 107 yards off of 24 carries against the Ravens. His 1,085 yards from scrimmage sit only behind Todd Gurley, who’s played one more game than Conner.
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