For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers slapped the exclusive franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell. And for the second straight year, Bell says he’s not going to show up for training camp unless the two sides can agree on a long-term contract extension.
“Honestly, no, I’m not going to sit out” the entire season, Bell said Wednesday night in an Instagram Live chat (TribLive.com’s Joe Rutter has the transcription). “I’m going to be in the facility Week 1. It’s going to be a rerun of last year. I’m not going to camp. I’m not doing nothing else extra, OTAs, none of that.
“I’m going to strictly go to what I have to go to. I want to win every game. I want to have the best statistical career that I possibly can, so I want to play in every game that I can possibly play.”
Last season, the franchise-tagged Bell showed up to Steelers HQ on Sept. 1, nine days before the start of the regular season. On Wednesday, he went on to say that his arrival this season might be even later, an assertion he first made in an interview with Billboard.com, when he said he might sit out until Week 10. That’s the latest he could report and still accrue a full season, allowing him to become a free agent in 2019.
“Me saying I was going to sit out was more emotional at the time,” Bell said, referring to the Billboard article. “When I was asked the question, that’s the way I felt at the time. I might come in Week 1. I might come in Week 4. I don’t know what week I’m going to come in, but I’m going to play this year, though.
“I’m going to play. I just don’t know when I’m going to play.”
Bell and the Steelers have until July 16 to reach a long-term deal. If there’s no agreement by then, Bell would have to play the 2018 season on his one-year franchise-player deal, which would be worth about $14.544 million.
“Hopefully, when it comes down to it, we won’t have to deal with [sitting out],” Bell said. “We’ll get a deal done. That’s the biggest thing. We want to get a deal done. … If not, I’ll handle it from there, but I definitely won’t be in camp. It’s basically a rerun of last year.”
Bell has gained 7,996 yards from scrimmage in his first five NFL seasons, the most of any player over his first 62 games in league history, and last season had 406 combined carries and receptions, by far the most touches for a non-quarterback. He has also been suspended twice for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Bell wants a deal that would reset an NFL veteran running back market that has undergone depreciation of late. He also knows that at 26 years old and with a heavy workload already under his belt, his window to sign a massive contract is about to close. The Steelers, who aren’t exactly swimming in salary cap space, would like to reward him without completely wrecking their coffers. Whether it’s Pittsburgh this year or another team next year remains to be seen.
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