- Although the league conditionally reinstated Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant from a year-plus suspension in April, it still hasn’t cleared him to participate in training camp. General manager Kevin Colbert addressed the situation Thursday, stating: “Upon his conditional reinstatement in April, Martavis Bryant was made aware it was only the beginning of a process toward a return to being a full contributing member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have been informed by the NFL that Martavis is still in the process of being fully reinstated. Until that time, Martavis will be permitted to take part in off-the-field team activities at training camp, but he will not be permitted to practice or play in any games.”
- As expected, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not show up at training camp Thursday, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com was among those to report. The franchise-tagged star has not signed his $12.12MM tender, meaning he’s under no obligation to attend camp. Bell could follow in the footsteps of Chiefs safety Eric Berry and not report until the regular season is on the verge of beginning. That’s what Berry did last summer when he was unhappy with the fact that he had to play the season under the tag in lieu of a multiyear contract.
The four-year deal is worth $24MM, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), with $14MM over the first two years. It’s a big step up considering that he was slated for a $615K salary this year as an exclusive rights free agent, but it’s still a team-friendly deal on the whole when considering Villanueva’s talent level. The top ten tackles in the league are making five figures per year and Villanueva effectively added three seasons at an average of $7.8MM. Villanueva may not be a top ten talent at the position, but he’s not far off and he’s just entering his prime years. The tackle turns 29 in September.
Villanueva waited to sign his ERFA tender this offseason in hopes that he could hammer out a long-term extension with Pittsburgh instead. Even though he wasn’t eligible to reach the open market until 2018, the Steelers opted to do right by one of its most important offensive linemen while also securing him for years to come.
Since debuting in 2015, Villanueva has appeared in 32 straight games, including 26 starts. He started every Steelers game last year and was the only member of its offense to play on all 1,083 of the unit’s snaps.
Last year, he was the 24th best offensive tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
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Contract extensions may be in the offing for Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, writes Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Colbert’s contract will expire after next year’s draft, while Tomlin is still under wraps for two more seasons. That’s typically when the Steelers have worked to extend their head coaches in the past, observes Bouchette. They’ve had just three since 1969, the year of Chuck Noll‘s hiring. Bill Cowher also came before Tomlin, who has mimicked those two with a resoundingly successful run in Pittsburgh. The Tomlin-led club has made the playoffs seven times out of 10, including last year, and hasn’t finished with fewer than eight wins in a season. Overall, the Steelers have gone 103-57 with a Super Bowl victory and two AFC championships under Tomlin.
- In addition to detailing Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell‘s long-term asking price Wednesday on NFL Network, former teammate Ike Taylor said there’s a “strong possibility” Bell will hold out of training camp, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Given that Bell hasn’t signed his $12.1MM tender as the Steelers’ franchise player, he’s under no obligation to report and wouldn’t face any punishment by staying away. Bell could therefore take a cue from Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who was unhappy with his franchise designation last year and didn’t show up until the end of August.
- Taylor noted Wednesday that Bell wants money that reflects his production as both a superstar runner and a No. 2 receiver. Bell confirmed as much Thursday, telling Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that he’s seeking a contract well in excess of Bills RB LeSean McCoy‘s league-high amount. “I make plays in the passing game, blocking, doing everything,” said Bell. “I’m arguably the top running back in the NFL and the No. 2 receiver on the Steelers, even though I play running back. Their career receiving total vs. mine, they don’t have more yards than me.” Prior to this past Monday’s deadline to sign franchise players to long-term deals, the Steelers did attempt to ink Bell to a deal worth more than McCoy’s five-year, $40MM-plus pact. Their five-year, $60MM proposal didn’t get it done, though.
Now that they won’t be able to extend running back Le’Veon Bell until next year, the Steelers are focusing on a new deal for left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. While there has only been “minimal movement” toward an extension, neither side wants Villanueva to miss a significant portion of the summer, reports Fowler, who notes that talks could ramp up before the Steelers open camp July 27. Given that he’s an exclusive rights free agent who won’t be able to reach the open market until after the 2018 season, Pittsburgh doesn’t have to award Villanueva a raise now. In doing so, though, the Steelers would lock up a player who has improbably become an integral part of their offense since joining the team as a practice squad player in 2014. The former Army Ranger captain debuted in 2015 and has appeared in 32 straight games, starting 26. He started each of Pittsburgh’s games last year and was the only member of its offense to play all 1,083 of the unit’s snaps. As a result, the 28-year-old is hoping for a new contract and hasn’t signed his $615K ERFA tender.
- Bell rejected a five-year offer worth roughly $60MM prior to Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign long-term deals. One of Bell’s former Steelers teammates, retired cornerback Ike Taylor, shed some light on the star rusher’s demands Wednesday on NFL Network. According to Taylor, Bell informed him that he wants a contract that reflects his performance as both a No. 1 back and a No. 2 receiver – likely something in the neighborhood of $15MM per year (Twitter links via Mike Garafolo of NFL.com). Bell does have multiple prolific pass-catching seasons under his belt, including his 75-reception showing in 2016. Had the Steelers met his demands, Bell would’ve crushed LeSean McCoy‘s league-leading contract for RBs. The five-year, $40MM-plus deal McCoy signed with the Bills in 2015 continues to stand above the rest, though.
- Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap offer competing views on the Steelers‘ reported offer to running back Le’Veon Bell, some of the details of which were leaked earlier today. Pittsburgh apparently offered Bell a $12MM annual salary over a five-year term, with $30MM coming in the first two years of pact, but as Florio notes, it’s difficult to completely evaluate the proposal without knowing its exact specifics. But Fitzgerald writes the Steelers typically offer large signing bonuses and honor the entirety of contracts, meaning Bell may have passed up quite a commitment on Pittsburgh’s part.
Having not yet signed his exclusive rights free agent tender, Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva training camp status is in question, writes Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Villanueva signed a waiver that enabled him to participate in voluntary practices during the spring, but he indicated at the time that he’ll follow his agent’s advice regarding camp. With that in mind, the former Army Ranger captain could sit out if his representative, Jason Bernstein, suggests it. As Fittipaldo points out, though, Villanueva doesn’t have much leverage and will have no recourse but to play for the ERFA tender amount ($615K) if the Steelers don’t take it upon themselves to award him a raise. Unfortunately for the O-line stalwart, he won’t be eligible to cash in as an unrestricted free agent until after the 2018 season, when he’ll already be 30 years old.
The Steelers were unable to sign franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell to a multiyear deal by Monday’s deadline, but they did make him a competitive offer. The club’s proposal was for five years, suggests Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, and came with an average annual value of $12MM, $30MM across the first two years of the contract and $42MM over the first three seasons, reports Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter).
After rejecting the Steelers’ pitch, Bell will play the 2017 campaign for $12.12MM, and judging by the team’s offer, he seems likely to receive the tag again next year if he turns in another quality season. By designating Bell as their franchise player in 2018, the Steelers would pay him roughly $14.5MM. If Pittsburgh was content to give Bell $14MM per annum over the first three years of the deal, it stands to reason the team would be willing to commit that type of money to him next offseason for a single campaign.
Had Bell accepted the Steelers’ offer, he’d have reset the market at the position – something he’s aiming to do. It’s unclear how much guaranteed money Pittsburgh would have handed him, but Bell’s pact clearly would have outdone the RB-leading AAV ($8MM-plus) and total value ($40.05MM) the Bills’ LeSean McCoy secured on a five-year contract in 2015. McCoy also paces all backs in guarantees ($18.25MM).
While Bell, 25, could play both this year and next under the tag, the twice-suspended star’s future thereafter looks murkier. The Steelers likely wouldn’t place the tag on him for a third straight year, and once the 2019 offseason rolls around, he should have far more tread on his tires. Thanks to both his rushing and pass-catching prowess, Bell has already accrued 1,135 touches during his four-year career at a position where players don’t tend to age well. Nevertheless, Bell is betting on himself in hopes of reeling in a deal even larger than the one Pittsburgh wanted to give him.
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With the franchise tag extension deadline in the rear view mirror, Le’Veon Bell is set to play out the season on a one-year, $12.12MM deal. Here’s the latest on the Steelers and their star running back:
- Bell says he’s taking it upon himself to push the market for running backs. “It’s a little frustrating, but it’s a business,” Bell said of this round of negotiations (via ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler). “I’m not in a rush to sign for something I’m not valued at if I feel I’m worth more than what they are offering me. … The running back market definitely took a hit, and I can’t be the guy who continues to let it take a hit. We do everything: We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn’t where it needs to be. I’m taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable.”
- Any absence by Bell gives his backup more playing time and that could theoretically cause problems for him, Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. That wasn’t a concern with veteran DeAngelo Williams as his backup, but if Bell misses time it will crack the door open for rookie James Conner. The Steelers also improved their receiving corps with the addition of wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, so the two rookies could theoretically fill in for Bell’s rushing and pass catching. At the same time, it’s hard to see the rookies combining to match Bell’s production.
- Now that Bell’s contract cannot be addressed until after the season, the Steelers would like to do long term deals with defensive end Stephon Tuitt and linebacker Ryan Shazier, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets. She also notes that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva remains unsigned. Villanueva has not signed his Exclusive Rights Free Agent tender with the hope that he will be offered a more lucrative deal.
The franchise tender extension deadline has come and gone. With no deals struck for the three players in question, we now know that Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson will be playing out the 2017 season on one-year deals.
We’ve believed this to be the most expected outcome for a while now, though Bell was the most likely to sign of the trio. Although Bell might have liked to sign a multi-year deal before this afternoon’s deadline, all three players are still in great shape for the coming year. Cousins will make roughly $24MM on his second straight franchise tag. Johnson will make $16MM on his second time on the tender. Bell will collect a $12MM+ salary on his first ever franchise tag.
The Redskins, Steelers, and Rams can all use the franchise tag on these players next year, but the price would be uncomfortably high in the cases of Bell ($14MM) and Cousins ($34MM) and downright outlandish in the case of Johnson ($20MM). If all goes right for them in 2017, they’re all in position to get paid in 2018 and beyond, one way or another.
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