Is he ever coming back? Maybe! Here’s EVERYTHING we know.
There’s something different about the Pittsburgh Steelers this season — no Le’Veon Bell. The running back has been away from the team since getting the franchise tag for the second year in a row this spring. His absence has included all of the team’s offseason workouts, training camp, the preseason and the first 10 weeks of the 2018 NFL season. Now it appears he will not return at all this year, opting to wait until 2019 to step foot on an NFL field.
With such a long saga, it’s easy to get confused as to what’s going on. So let’s get you up to speed, starting with the BIG question on everyone’s mind …
Will Le’Veon Bell skip the entire season?
He could. If he doesn’t return by the end of the day on Nov. 13, he would not be allowed to play again this season (see below).
Why is Bell not with the team?
Simple, money. For two years in a row, the Steelers have used to franchise tag to retain exclusive rights to the offensive weapon. Although the one-year fully guaranteed deal would have paid him as much as $14.5 million this season (he lost more than $800,000 for every week he was absent), it shorted him the chance to negotiate his worth.
Because he got the tag, Bell’s absence isn’t a holdout. There’s nothing to negotiate. He can either sign the deal or risk not playing this season.
Instead, Bell’s reasoning for skipping the preseason and the first 10 weeks of the regular season has more to do with his health. He’s made it clear that he wants to save some wear and tear on his body before he gets another shot at free agency next spring.
Didn’t Bell and the Steelers negotiate a contract?
They did, but Bell wasn’t happy with the offer and how it was structured.
It sounded like a GREAT offer, $70 million over five years. However, only $10 million was fully guaranteed at signing, which is a common practice for the Steelers. As with most NFL contracts, the devil is in the details. The Steelers could have released him after this season, and he would have earned nothing more on the deal. Or, an injury could have taken millions off the table, so Bell wanted more.
He wanted something more akin to what Todd Gurley got from the Rams. Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million deal with $45 million guaranteed.
So why can’t they just negotiate a new deal?
Because it’s the franchise tag. When a team uses the tag on a player, they have until the middle July of that year to negotiate a long-term deal that replaces the tag.
The Steelers and Bell didn’t get a deal done. The only options available to Bell after that were to sign his one-year franchise tag offer or not sign it and skip part (or all) of the season.
Can the Steelers tag him again next season?
Probably not. If they gave him a third consecutive franchise tag, they’d reportedly have to do it at the quarterback salary number, which means he’d get a one-year, $25 million deal that would be fully guaranteed if he signed it. The team is unwilling to do that.
They could still use the transition tag. That would allow teams to make an offer and give the Steelers the right to match any offer another team gave him, something they’d be unlikely to do IF Bell got the kind of free agent offers he thinks he will. If another team does not make an offer, the transition tag would pay Bell 20 percent more than his previous year salary, which would have been $14.5 million under the franchise tag this year.
So many tags!
When does Bell have to come back?
He doesn’t have to come back at all. However, if he missed the season, it would take away another chance to show he’s worth the money he wants in free agency. Or, the Steelers could place the transition tag on him this offseason. He can’t play if he doesn’t report by 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 13.
On Monday, Nov. 5, Bell sent out a tweet teasing a potential return.
— Le’Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) November 5, 2018
He’s been spending his time in Miami, obviously, training and doing whatever else it is people do in Miami (like have fun).
According to Steelers owner Art Rooney, Bell is back in Pittsburgh and they expect him to report before his Tuesday deadline.
What do his teammates think about it?
They actually started out in his corner. But when he told them he’d be back in September and didn’t show, he lost some of their support. They haven’t changed their stance much, with some still maintaining that it won’t matter when he does return. Truth be told, it’s a very complicated situation between teammates, as retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explained.
Do the Steelers even need him anymore?
Maybe not. Second-year running back James Conner has filled in nicely in his stead.
Through eight games, Conner has rushed for 706 yards on 151 attempts, a nice 4.7 yards per carry. He’s also got nine rushing touchdowns, tied for the second most in the NFL. The Steelers have thrown Conner the ball 50 times, and he’s caught 38 of those targets for 379 yards and a touchdown.
Plus, Conner’s rookie contract is very team-friendly.
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