Although the question of whether the Vikings cut running back Adrian Peterson won’t affect the amount of the franchise tag applicable to Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, there’s another development that will: Not using the franchise tag at all.
The Steelers could opt to use the transition tag instead of the franchise tag on Bell. The transition tag would give the Steelers a right to match any offer sheet that Bell signs elsewhere; the franchise tag would provide a right to match and two first-round picks as compensation if he leaves (breaking: no one will be giving up two first-round picks for Bell).
If no one is willing to give Bell the kind of contract he wants even without losing draft picks, he’d be eligible to stay in Pittsburgh on a one-year deal that equates to, per a league source, 5.892 percent of the 2017 salary cap. That’s considerably less than the 7.257-percent rate that applies under the franchise tag for running backs.
Based on a $165 million salary cap, those percentages equate to a franchise tender of $11.97 million and a transition tender of $9.72 million. For the Steelers, the question becomes whether it’s worth the extra $2.25 million to prevent another team from trying to pilfer Bell.
If the Steelers believe that no other team would break the bank for a guy who a significant injury history, a groin injury that was bad enough to at least make surgery an option, and a pair of substance-abuse policy violations, it makes plenty of sense to save the money and retain the rights to a running back who has been great when healthy and available, but who isn’t healthy and available often enough (he has missed 20 total games in four seasons) to justify that kind of investment.
In an era when the transition tag isn’t used on a regular basis, the Steelers have applied it twice in the last decade. In 2014, linebacker Jason Worilds received the transition tag. Ditto for tackle Max Starks six years earlier.