The moment is approaching when the calendar will officially determine whether Le’Veon Bell will play this season.
According to ESPN, the running back is “unlikely” to report to the Steelers by the 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline by which he must sign his franchise tender if he is to play this season. Failing to sign and report means he will receive none of the $14.5 million he was due; he already is out $8.55 million for missing the first 10 weeks of the season.
Although Bell has been spotted in Pittsburgh recently, he and his agent have had little to say about his plans. Last month, he indicated to ESPN that he would return during the team’s bye week, but he was a no-show and, with James Conner filling in ably at running back and the Steelers on a five-game winning streak after Thursday’s victory over Carolina, the Steelers aren’t losing any sleep over the matter.
So what happens now? Applying the franchise tag for a third consecutive season is cost-prohibitive. The Steelers could apply the transition tag to Bell after the season, allowing the team to match any offer sheet Bell receives.
Although the team’s president, Art Rooney II, said last week that he expected Bell to report before the deadline, that seems far from certain.
For Bell, who turned down a five-year, $70 million contract in July, it’s a matter of betting on himself. He’ll turn 27 in February and would have fresh legs for next season after, essentially, betting $14 million that he can get at least $30 million guaranteed next spring.
It’s an interesting strategy and, if it pays off for Bell, we’ll see whether it’s one that other players and agents are willing to try.
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