It would be regarded as a surprise at this point if the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell negotiate a long-term contract before Monday’s deadline for signing franchise-tagged players to long-term deals. So what happens if there’s no deal done?
Bell hasn’t signed his $12.1 million franchise tender. So he’s not under contract. Which means he has no obligation to show up for training camp or the preseason. By rule, he can wait until just a matter of days before the start of the regular season to report, sign, and still receive the full $12.1 million.
By all appearances, Bell has recovered from offseason groin surgery. So there’s no reason for him not to show up. Other than to exert leverage over the team.
But with no chance for a multi-year deal after Monday, there’s really not much leverage to exert. Bell could, in theory, squeeze the Steelers to pay him more than $12.1 million for one year. He also could persuade them to commit to not use the franchise or transition tag on him again in 2018.
The former would be unprecedented; the latter has occurred from time to time. And if the Steelers are resisting the standard formula for turning a franchise tag into a long-term deal by saying they don’t want to guarantee his $12.1 million salary plus a 20-percent raise under the tag for 2018 by saying they don’t plan to tag him again, it’s not unreasonable for Bell to ask the team to reduce that to writing.
The only leverage the Steelers have is the power to remove the franchise tag and make Bell a free agent at a time when he’d be hard pressed to find the kind of money he wants and the right fit on the open market. There’s no reason to believe they would, but there was no reason to believe the Panthers would remove Josh Norman’s franchise tender last April.