The Steelers are getting upset.
Two weeks in to training camp, running back Le'Veon Bell has chosen to exercise his right not to show up. And, as Josh Alper pointed out earlier in the day, G.M. Kevin Colbert has publicly called Bell out for not accepting the $12.1 million franchise tender and showing up for preseason preparations.
It’s out of character for the normally soft-spoken Colbert to talk so tough, but the gesture is a reflection of the frustration that naturally flows when a franchise accustomed to getting its way when it comes to player relations suddenly doesn’t.
Ultimately, Bell is doing what he has the right to do under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Steelers had the right under the CBA to apply the franchise tag to Bell, and they did. Bell then acquired the right to not sign it and to skip the offseason program, training camp, and all of the preseason. So far, he has.
Like various other franchise-tagged players before him, Bell has chosen to stay away. If he wants, Bell can stay away until only a few days before the start of the regular season, at which time he can show up, sign the tender, and still get the full $12.1 million.
If the Steelers don’t like that he isn’t there, they have options that would be far more productive than publicly criticizing Bell. Although it’s too late to do a long-term deal, the Steelers can sweeten the terms of the one-year offer, with more salary or a signing bonus or incentives or anything. They also can promise not to tag him again next year as an inducement to get him to show up.
Or, if they want, the Steelers can rescind the franchise tender and make Bell a free agent.
However it plays out, it’s unusual that the Steelers are expressing confusion and impatience regarding a situation that the franchise created by applying the franchise tag to Bell. The Steelers have rights, the player has rights, and complaining about the player exercising those rights likely won’t get him to blink.
If anything, it may cause Bell to harden his position.