Le'Veon Bell

Steelers Increased Offer To Le’Veon Bell

Less than 18 hours remain until the 2018 franchise tag extension deadline, and the impasse between the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell persists after nearly two full offseasons’ worth of negotiations.

The Steelers and Bell resumed talks again this week, and the team is committed to trying to hammer out a deal until the 3pm Monday deadline. However, the two-time All-Pro running back turned down the Steelers’ latest offer, one worth north of $13.3MM per year, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports (video link).

Pittsburgh’s 2017 offer was worth $13.3MM AAV, and the proposal reportedly contained $30MM in its first two years. However, Bell — attached to a $12.12MM tag at that point — turned that down.

When the Steelers approached him earlier this year, per Fowler, the running back referenced his 406-touch workload last season as evidence he’s worth more. The talks between the parties cooled off until they picked up again months later, and it’s safe to assume Bell’s adjusted price caused the hiatus.

Bell’s $14.54MM 2018 tag figure continues to be his per-year floor, per Fowler. The Steelers and Bell have made progress, but ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Sunday night that the odds are against an agreement being hammered out.

No other running back makes more on a long-term deal than Devonta Freeman‘s $8.25MM, and his 2017 extension only bumped the current running back ceiling up by less than $250K per year. LeSean McCoy‘s 2015 Bills deal represented the standard before that. No other current running back earns more than $8MM annually, but Bell would nearly double that this season by playing on the tag again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Franchise-Tagged Players

Monday’s 3pm CT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions may come and go without one being finalized.

After a Saturday report indicated re-ups were unlikely for DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com confirmed Ansah and the Lions won’t agree to terms by Monday afternoon and adds Lawrence is unlikely to come to terms with the Cowboys (Twitter links).

As for the other two tagged players, prospects also appear grim. Schefter reports (on Twitter) Lamarcus Joyner is not expected to reach an extension with the Rams, though he adds the sides are still discussing one. And despite Mike Tomlin‘s hopes of Le’Veon Bell finally agreeing to a Steelers accord, Schefter reports (via Twitter) that’s unlikely, too. However, the Steelers and Bell have made recent progress and will keep trying until the deadline. But this report throws some cold water on an 11th-hour solution coming to pass.

Ansah and the Lions have been far apart throughout this process, and the Lions are planning to see if their top edge defender can stay healthy and prove reliable enough for a long-term commitment. The Cowboys may be using the same strategy with their injury-prone pass rusher, despite making a stronger effort to discuss a deal with Lawrence.

Bell and the Steelers have been circling each other for years, but if the parties can’t agree by Monday afternoon, their arrangement will be a full-fledged rental situation. Bell will likely be headed toward the 2019 UFA market if the Steelers don’t sign him by Monday. The Rams’ issues with Aaron Donald‘s deal leave Joyner in a strange spot. Los Angeles possesses a league-low $2MM in cap space and has a glut of contract calls coming — Donald, Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters — in what will be a complicated stretch for the now-high-profile team.

Of course, by the Lions, Cowboys and Rams not agreeing on deals with their tagged performers, that ups prices down the line. Since Bell has already been twice tagged, it would cost the Steelers a staggering $20MM-plus to tag their All-Pro back again.

Ansah is going to play this season for $17.1MM, and if Lawrence indeed is still without a deal by Monday evening, he will too. Joyner will count nearly $12MM on the Rams’ payroll, while Bell’s $14.5MM 2018 salary has been well-known for months by NFL contract buffs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers, Le’Veon Bell Making Progress

A final-day extension for Le’Veon Bell remains possible, despite recent projections that such an agreement wasn’t feasible for the Steelers. However, it’s likely going to come down to Monday, a day that figures to determine the Steelers’ future at running back.

Bell and the Steelers are making progress, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter), and are bracing for a seminal final day of negotiations on Monday.

If Bell ends up playing this season on the $14.5MM tag, he’s likely going to be a 2019 UFA. A third tag for the All-Pro back would exceed $20MM. Bell’s price point this offseason has been difficult to pin down, but the $14.5MM tag figure has been seen as the absolute floor for the 26-year-old superstar. And Antonio Brown‘s $17MM-AAV mark has been mentioned as well. Steelers reporters have expressed doubt the team will authorize an agreement that merely reaches the $14.5MM-per-year mark, let alone a market-shattering $17MM-AAV deal.

The Steelers and Bell nearly finalized a deal at last year’s deadline, and it looks like the sides have not given up on finally doing so a year later. Bell is widely believed to have nixed a viable Steelers offer — one that would have paid him $30MM in the contract’s first two years but one Bell said averaged just more than $13MM per season in totality — just before the 2017 deadline, but he recently expressed optimism about he and the Steelers agreeing on terms.

Bell posted 1,946 yards from scrimmage last season in just 15 games, but his 4.0 yards per carry represented a steep drop from the 4.9 he’d averaged in 2015 and ’16. At the rate the Steelers have used him (406 touches in those 15 games last year), it would make sense for Bell to lock in some longer-term security before the Super Bowl-contending team adds to his odometer this season. That said, Bell has not shown he’s willing to back off a price he believes is justified. So, it’s hard to say which way this will end up going 48 hours from the deadline.

On the Steelers’ end, they will most likely have to replace Bell in 2019 if Monday’s talks don’t end up producing a deal. And that would break up the historically dominant skill-position duo of he and Brown before one of those members turns 27. Considering Ben Roethlisberger‘s age, it may be prudent for the franchise — one that hasn’t been shy about restructuring deals to make newer extensions fit — to keep its core intact to capitalize on its quarterback’s skills before an inevitable decline. But no other running back earns more than $9MM per year, understandably causing these talks to drag to the point they have.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Gronk, Luck, Bell, Broncos

Rob Gronkowski is still operating on a contract he signed in 2012, slightly before he placed his name among the all-time tight end greats, but is committed to returning for a ninth season regardless. Reports of Patriots negotiations with Gronkowski on a revised 2018 deal emerged months ago, but nothing’s been resolved. That’s led some other executives around the conference to believe the Patriots are still motivated to trade their superstar pass-catcher.

Where’s the restructure of his contract?” one AFC personnel executive said, via Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal (via NESN.com). “Until that’s done, I think he’s still available. I wouldn’t be surprised if (Bill) Belichick is going to test Gronk’s buy-in with the contract.”

The Pats are believed to have shopped Gronk to the Texans, Titans, Lions and 49ers. The 29-year-old All-Pro remains on New England’s roster but without the kind of pay-bump possibility 2017’s incentive package brought. Three of the five execs Bedard spoke with believe the Pats and Gronkowski will reach an agreement to redo his deal, but the fact that it hasn’t happened yet opens the door to rumblings of a trade — one that wouldn’t be out of character for Belichick. Two other AFC execs expect a harder fight from the Patriots, given that Gronk hinted at retirement and skipped OTAs.

Here’s the latest on some other AFC standouts:

  • On the topic of impasses for All-Pros, Le’Veon Bell remains focused on a deal that represents a combination of his abilities on the ground and through the air — a demand that could be up to $17MM AAV. Although the Steelers‘ talks with their star running back resumed, they are still unlikely to produce a long-term deal, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Fittipaldo is the latest to confirm Bell turned down a contract proposal that would have ensured he made $30MM in 2017 and ’18, adding it was a five-year offer. Bell’s entrance to the league as a 2013 second-round pick, and a player who has earned less than 2016 first-rounder Ezekiel Elliott (since Bell has yet to sign his $14.5MM 2018 tender, this is still accurate), is helping drive Bell to take this hardline stance, per Fittipaldo.
  • While this isn’t exactly full confirmation, signs point to Andrew Luck participating in a passing summit with some of his pass-catchers at his alma mater. Colts wide receiver Chester Rogers tweeted he’s off to Stanford, where Luck spends time training during the offseason. Mike Chappell of Fox 59 assumes Luck will be throwing Rogers and others as he continues the final stages of his exhaustive rehab program. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t qualify as particularly newsworthy. But considering Luck’s progress in June, every throw the passer makes will be relevant as he prepares to surmount what’s been a significant hurdle to return to the field.
  • Chris Harris has some interesting incentives in his contract, one the Broncos adjusted this year. The standout cornerback’s been attached to an incredibly team-friendly deal the past four years, and the Broncos added $3MM in incentives. Some of those escalators can only be triggered by team success, with the six-, eight- and 10-win benchmarks representing possible six-figure bumps for the 29-year-old corner. Harris preferred that being part of his contract. “Last year was unacceptable as a team,” Harris said, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic (subscription required) in an expansive piece on Denver’s DBs. “This year I’m putting that in my contract to make sure these guys are on the same page as me, how I think on the field and prepare them for games.”
  • Jhabvala adds that Denver’s Su’a Cravens addition could threaten Will Parks‘ role more than anyone else’s. The third-year defender serves as a backup safety and occasional dime linebacker, and Cravens looks set to make a strong push to assume that role for a team that gave up a fifth-round pick to get him. The Broncos were said to view Cravens strictly as a safety, but the former second-round pick played a hybrid role with the Redskins in 2016.

Extra Points: Steelers, Bell, Giants, OBJ, Collins, Dolphins, Quinn

Le’Veon Bell appears likely to again remain away from the Steelers all summer. Similarly to last year, he’s expected to show up right before the regular season as he angles for a longterm extension that will make him the highest paid running back in league history.

Until he shows up, Bell won’t be signing his franchise tender. That’s in contrast to the other players who’ve been tagged such as Lamarcus Joyner, Demarcus Lawrence, and Ezekiel Ansah, who have all signed their tenders. If there’s no progress on a longterm deal and the relationship between the two sides sour, the Steelers could even rescind Bell’s tender before he signs it and play the 2018 season without him, says Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. While Florio says that option “remains unlikely”, he thinks it’s a possibility and notes it would put Bell in a “tough spot” as most teams’ salary caps and rosters would be set by then.

It’s a long-shot, but the Steelers seem to think they need Bell less than everyone else. Crazier things have happened.

Here’s more from around the league:

July 16 Marks NFL’s Franchise Tag Extension Deadline

This year, the deadline for teams to reach extensions with franchise tagged players falls on July 16. If the following four players do not agree to new contracts in the coming days, they will be ticketed for free agency in 2019:

For Bell, the absence of a deal all but guarantees that he will be allowed to explore the open market next season. That’s because this is the second year in a row that Bell has been hit with the tag. He’ll make $14.544MM this season if no extension deal is reached, but a third tag would cost Pittsburgh more than $20MM. For the rest, the possibility of a second franchise tag remains, though the requisite 20% increase could prevent teams from applying the tender.

The rules of the franchise tag dictate that teams have until mid-July to hammer out an extension with players. If not, the two sides are barred from engaging in contract talks until after the season has concluded.

From 2013-2017, 16 of the league’s 33 franchise tagged players agreed to extensions before the summer deadline. This year, it’s hard to say whether deals will be reached for any of the players in question. Bell is looking for a deal that will reflect his production as a top running back and a No. 2 wide receiver. The defensive ends, Ansah and Lawrence, know that teams are willing to overpay for quality edge rushers in free agency. Joyner, meanwhile, may be content to let the Rams control his fate since he’ll either make $11MM+ this year and hit free agency, or earn $25MM through two franchise tags and reach the open market in 2020.

Then again, a serious injury could derail any member of this quartet, so there’s something to be said for financial security over monetary upside. Joyner, in particular, could be quietly eager to sign a multi-year deal after watching a dismal free agent safety market play out this offseason.

What we do know for sure is that the next 12 days will be worth monitoring.

Poll: Will Steelers Extend Le’Veon Bell?

As could be expected given the events of the past 1 1/2 years, the Le’Veon Bell/Steelers saga is coming down to the wire. By July 16, Steelers fans will almost certainly know if the two-time All-Pro running back will be a long-term Pittsburgh resident.

Thus far, the signs haven’t been especially promising. Although Bell is optimistic about an extension being finalized, Pittsburgh-based reporters are skeptical about the team committing at the rate Bell seeks. Devonta Freeman‘s $8.25MM-per-year deal represents the current ceiling for long-term running back pacts, but Bell could be angling for $17MM annually in what would be an unbelievable markup for this position. He also might merely want something north of his new franchise tag number ($14.5MM), which would still double as a seismic increase for this job compared to the top rates of the recent past.

The Steelers appeared closer to reaching the finish line with Bell last summer, when they reportedly offered him a deal that would have paid him $42.5MM in its first three years and $30MM across the first two. Bell will be collecting just more than $26MM on his two-franchise tag arrangement between the 2017 and ’18 seasons. The 26-year-old ball-carrier, though, said the Steelers’ top 2017 offer was for $13.3MM per year for the life of the contract. While that still would have represented a seismic raise for the running back market, and was a $1.1MM AAV increase from Bell’s 2017 franchise tag rate, Bell wanted his contract to reflect his contributions as a receiver as well.

Bell then caught a career-high 85 passes — his second 80-reception season — and stayed healthy throughout a dominant slate that doubled as the Steelers’ best since their 2010 AFC championship campaign. But he also added a career-high 406 touches to his odometer. The Steelers have used him as an old-school workhorse. Despite that helping Bell’s statistics, his usage rate may be hurting his long-term value.

Although Kevin Colbert expressed optimism back in March the Steelers would extend Bell, it’s possible that given the way these talks have progressed the team views him as a high-end short-term rental rather than someone who will still be an elite player into his late 20s or early 30s.

However, the Steelers don’t have a ready-made Bell replacement lined up. That would be unrealistic, since the former second-round pick’s been one of the best backs of the decade. But would it be better for a team that’s struggled on defense for years to let Bell walk in 2019 and devote most of that money to helping its weaker unit? Or is Bell essential to Pittsburgh keeping its Super Bowl title window open?

The Steelers may well be the Patriots’ top threat in the AFC, but might this be the last season where Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell are teammates? Bell and the Steelers not agreeing to an extension by the July deadline would put the running back on a Kirk Cousins path, with a 2019 tag number exceeding an untenable $20MM, and make Cousins’ former Michigan State teammate a unique free agent just as he was this year. Or, will Bell back down from his lofty price point and lock in some multiyear guarantees while he’s still in his mid-20s?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Le’Veon Bell Optimistic About Contract Talks

With less than three weeks to go before the deadline for a pre-season extension, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is feeling fairly optimistic about a deal coming together. 

Obviously, the people in the organization try to do what’s best for them and I’m trying to do what’s best for me,” Bell said on NFL Network (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com). “We’re working on it. We’re a lot closer than we were last year at this time. That’s what I’m happy about. None of that matters if we don’t get it done. Hopefully we’ll try to get something done. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I got confidence we’ll get it done. I want to do it.”

Bell is currently set to earn $14.5MM this year after being franchise tagged for a second straight year. The two sides have until July 16 to reach an accord on a long-term deal. If that doesn’t come to fruition, the two sides won’t be able to reconvene until after the season.

The dynamic running back is reportedly seeking $17MM per year on a new deal, a number that reflects his work as a top-flight running back plus his production as a receiver. Last year, the Steelers were only willing to offer him a $60MM deal with $42.5MM coming in the first three years of the pact. It’s not clear how much of that proposal was to be fully guaranteed at signing.

After the two sides were unable to reach agreement last July, Bell stayed away from the team until the last minute. This year, Bell has given mixed messages about what he’ll do if a deal doesn’t happen.

Yeah. You know regardless that’s what I want to do,” Bell said when asked whether he’ll report to training camp. “I don’t want to have the replications of what happened last year. But if that came down to that, obviously I got to do what I got to do. Take my stand and protect myself. I don’t want to have to do that. I want to go to camp and play for the Steelers long term.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

No Talks Between Steelers, Le’Veon Bell

The Steelers tabled Le’Veon Bell extension discussions until after the draft, but six weeks later, the sides have not resumed dialogue on this topic, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports (subscription required). The lack of progress is concerning with less than one month to go until the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign an extension. 

[RELATED – Poll: Which AFC North Team Had The Best Offseason?]

Bell has stayed away from the Steelers this offseason as he pushes for a multi-year deal to reset the market for running backs. Bell has said he has no plans to sit out the 2018 season, but that threat could surface once again if the two sides are far apart on terms when July 16 approaches.

If Bell doesn’t sign by the deadline, he will play on the franchise tag for the second straight year. This time around, it will be for $14.5MM, representing a 20% increase from 2017. Without a long-term deal, that could spell Bell’s final year in Pittsburgh. If nothing is agreed upon by mid-July, the Steelers cannot resume talks with Bell until after the season. At that point, they’ll be competing with an eager open market.

Theoretically, the Steelers can franchise tag Bell for a third consecutive season, but the increased cost would be prohibitive. The transition tag is also an option, though another team would likely offer Bell a contract that the Steelers are unable to match.

Bell is looking for a contract that will pay him as the best running back in the game while also reflecting his performance as a No. 2 wide receiver. Last year, the Steelers reportedly offered him a $60MM deal with $42.5MM in the first three years of the pact, though it’s not clear how much of that deal was fully guaranteed.

Last year, Bell nearly racked up 2,000 all-purpose yards. If he didn’t sit out the team’s meaningless Week 17 contest, he likely would have gotten the 54 yards necessary to hit that milestone.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Le’Veon Bell To Skip OTAs

In a long-expected move, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will reportedly not attend organized team activities which begin on Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes

Again, this is not a shocker. Once Pittsburgh franchised the star running back for a second straight season it was anticipated that he would not be showing up as he seeks a new deal. The two sides have until July to reach a long-term contract.

As of late March, contract talks were on hold, and it’s unclear if the two sides have resumed negotiations since. Bell has already said he has no plans to sit out the 2018 season, but he will likely stay away until the preseason is concluded. In 2017, Bell reportedly turned down a contract offer that included $42MM in the first three years of the deal. If he remains on the franchise tag, Bell could earn $14.5MM in 2018.

In an interview with Fowler in March, Bell said: “We’re not coming to a number we both agree on — they are too low, or I guess they feel I’m too high. 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.”

Bell has been among the league’s best backs since entering the NFL in 2013. He has three 1,000-yard rushing campaigns to his name and has also added 312 receptions. The three-time Pro Bowl back and two-time First Team All-Pro will undoubtedly be looking for a top-of-the-line contract that exceeds the $41.25MM over five seasons that Devonta Freeman is currently earning.