The NFL is a deadline-driven business, but the Steelers like to drive their own deadlines.
Only days after a team-created artificial trigger for doing a deal with receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell are in negotiations for a long-term contract, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Media.
The likely artificial deadline for Bell’s deal is the start of the new league year on Thursday, when the new salary cap of $167 million locks in. With Bell carrying the exclusive franchise tag of $12.11 million and with the rest of the running-back market languishing at or below $8 million, he’ll easily be the highest-paid tailback in football.
But the deal likely won’t set the market; Bell’s contract will be the aberration that no other running back reaches, because none of them have the leverage that comes with the franchise tag.
Also, with the Steelers typically unwilling to guarantee payments in the second year of a long-term contract, it’s likely that the structure will look a lot like receiver Antonio Brown’s deal, with 2017’s compensation fully guaranteed and a large non-guaranteed roster bonus due in early 2018.
No matter what the final deal looks like, the Steelers have the ability to get players to go along with what they want to do and how they want to do it. So even though the real deadline for doing a long-term deal is July 15, if the Steelers want it to happen sooner, look for Bell to accept that and every other rule that the Steelers apply to the process of negotiating long-term contracts.