The Le’Veon Bell saga – or, at least, this part of it – is over. The running back will not report to the Steelers or sign his franchise tender before the Tuesday afternoon deadline, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. This renders him ineligible to play in 2018.
The Steelers tagged Bell for the second straight time, but he refused to play on a one-year, $14.5MM contract. There was previously confusion about the ramifications of a year-long holdout, but Bell’s camp recently confirmed that he cannot be tagged again at the same rate. A third franchise tag would cost the Steelers roughly $25MM, which assures that he’ll reach unrestricted free agency unless the team throws him a curveball and uses the transition tag.
Bell has sacrificed roughly $8MM in salary up until this point and he’ll forfeit another ~$6MM in earnings by stretching his holdout through the end of the season. He’ll also miss out on a possible Super Bowl run. Despite a rocky start, the Steelers lead the AFC North and appear well on their way to another playoff berth.
Bell’s stance has been the source of controversy this year, but, from a financial perspective, it’s hard to argue with his approach. If Bell suffered a serious injury this year, he would have jeopardized a massive payday in free agency. It’s likely that he’ll be dinged for his high usage in recent years and Bell did not want to take another hit as he seeks to break the mold for running backs.
Some GMs may shy away from Bell for a perceived lack of commitment to the game, but he still figures to command a record-breaking contract in the spring. The Jets, for example, are projected to have upwards of $100MM in cap room and figure to make a strong push for Bell, who will have just turned 27 in March.
Bell’s free agency will be a fascinating case to watch. It’s not often that truly elite players reach unrestricted free agency and Bell will arguably be one of the best to ever hit the open market.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they have found a very capable replacement in Bell’s former understudy. James Conner, 23, has 771 yards off of 164 carries in nine games this year, giving him a stellar average of 4.7 yards per tote. He also has ten rushing touchdowns and a 39/387/1 stat line as a receiver.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.