Two weeks ago, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t want to talk about running back Le'Veon Bell because Tomlin only wanted to talk about the guys who are at camp. Now, Tomlin is talking. As is G.M. Kevin Colbert.
They need to stop.
Bell isn’t a holdout in the classic sense. He has no contract. He’s not an employee. He currently has the right to become an employee for one season, at a salary of $12.1 million. He has that right because the Steelers exercised their right to keep him from becoming a free agent by applying the franchise tag.
Put simply, the Steelers started this. They shouldn’t be able to finish it by griping about Bell in the hope that his inherent desire to please his coach and/or his team — or to avoid rampant criticism from fans on social media — will cause Bell to blink.
If the Steelers want to end this, they have two clear options: They can sweeten the offer that’s on the table, or they can remove it altogether.
While it’s too late to parlay the franchise tender into a long-term deal, the Steelers could offer Bell more than $12.1 million on a one-year deal. The Steelers also could rescind the tender and make Bell an unrestricted free agent.
Really, if the Steelers think Bell is being unreasonable in his financial expectations, they should let the market determine what he’s worth. (The Steelers, based on the language of the CBA, probably would be permitted to sign him to only a one-year deal even after rescinding the tender.)
Regardless of what the Steelers do, the one thing they shouldn’t do is apply pressure to a player who is fully within his rights to not be at training camp. It’s no different than calling out a player who is under contract for not attending voluntary offseason workouts. For Bell, everything is voluntary until he voluntarily signs the franchise tender, which the Steelers voluntarily applied — and which the Steelers can voluntarily remove at any time.