In becoming the first franchise-tagged player since the Chiefs’ Dan Williams in 1998 to commit to skipping an entire season, Le’Veon Bell ensured himself to be a key name in NFL business history henceforth. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert confirmed Bell did not sign his franchise tender on Tuesday and will not play in 2018. He’s likely bound for the 2019 market. Here’s the latest from the Bell front:
- Pittsburgh’s plan will still be a transition tag, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. This will be for Bell’s would-have-been 2018 franchise tag amount ($14.5MM), though it’s not like the Steelers will be prepared to match a big offer. They have James Conner in the fold for at least two more seasons on a third-round deal and have obviously been through quite the ordeal with his predecessor. The Steelers also won’t match an offer because of a preference to avoid other teams structuring their contracts, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly notes (subscription required). A trade could commence, but with no draft compensation attached to the transition tag, Pittsburgh wouldn’t have much leverage here.
- While Conner delivering the same level of production Bell did in 2017 may not look great for Bell’s status as a difference-making running back, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk not only expects the soon-to-be 27-year-old running back to match Todd Gurley‘s market-shattering contract (four years, $57.5MM, $45MM guaranteed) but expects Bell to land a better deal in 2019 (Twitter link). With the cap rising by approximately $10MM annually, this could happen. It’s a major risk, though, especially given Bell’s injury and suspension history (18 missed games, counting the playoffs, due to injury). Gurley had 914 career regular-season touches prior to signing his extension; David Johnson ($13MM AAV) had just 405. Although Bell will preserve his body for a hopeful megadeal, he has 1,541 career touches — the most of any active back through an age-25 season. While it’s likely Bell will command a lucrative pact, it’s not a lock he ventures into Gurley territory.
- As for who will pay Bell, the Colts and Jets stand to possess more than $100MM in cap space in 2019. The Bills and Raiders will also have plenty of money to spend, though both teams have needs at several positions. Kaboly pinpoints the Jets, who don’t have much in the way of long-term solutions beyond Sam Darnold, on offense. While the Jets also have needs at just about every position on offense, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News writes they should sign Bell — even if it forces an overpay — citing Darnold’s rookie contract as a window for bigger free agent moves. This may be the team that would make Bell’s plan worthwhile. They gave out lavish deals to Darrelle Revis and Trumaine Johnson, and now Mike Maccagnan may be entering a win-or-else offseason. The Colts have not spent wildly in free agency in Chris Ballard‘s first two seasons, however.
- Conner remains in concussion protocol, and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes neither Jaylen Samuels nor Stevan Ridley have shown to be on his level. Citing past Steelers running backs’ absences in playoff games — including Bell, who either missed or failed to finish four postseason contests over a three-season span — Bouchette notes Conner’s health now becomes even more important if the team is to finally break through after several January letdowns this decade.