“We are disappointed Le’Veon Bell has not signed his franchise tender and rejoined his teammates,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said Monday morning in a team-issued statement. “Coach [Mike] Tomlin and the coaching staff will continue to focus on preparing the players on our roster for our regular season opener on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.”
There was a report out of Pittsburgh last week that said Bell had told his teammates he would be reporting Monday, but the running back dubbed it “fake news” on Twitter.
By virtue of his franchise-tag designation, Bell will make $14.5 million this season, assuming he ever signs the tender. But the five-year NFL veteran, whose versatility out of the backfield makes him one of the NFL’s elite running backs, wants a contract extension, one befitting a 26-year-old talent who has averaged 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game over his career, the most since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. He has also seen as a strong pass blocker.
A continued holdout remains an option for Bell. Under the collective bargaining agreement, he can wait until November to sign the tender and still accrue a season of service, opening the door to free agency and the open market during the 2019 offseason. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said earlier this year that such a holdout could be on the table.
“I think it’s possible Le’Veon Bell sits out the first half of the year if he doesn’t get a long-term deal done,” Schefter said. “The goal at that point would be to hit 2019 free agency healthy, not rack up another 400 touches.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey said Monday that he doesn’t think it will come to that.
Bell led the NFL last season with 321 carries. He also had 85 catches on 106 targets, both career highs. But he also started the season slowly after missing training camp, rushing for just 32 yards on 10 carries against the Browns in the opener, and did not top 100 rushing yards in a game until Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens.
James Connor, Bell’s primary backup, had an impressive preseason, averaging 5.3 yards per carry with a touchdown. He seems to be first in line to take Bell’s carries if he continues his holdout.
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