When Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said that he and the Steelers already are closer now to a long-term deal than they were a year ago, it seemed that the Steelers had set an artificial deadline for getting a contract done, as they often do.
Bell told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN on Thursday that this is precisely what has happened. The deadline set by the team is February 20, and Bell said he’d like to get a deal done by then, too.
“That is definitely the goal,” Bell said.
Bell also said that negotiations can continue if they don’t hit their goal.
The date of February 20 wasn’t randomly selected; that’s when the window opens for applying the franchise tag. For Bell, the tag would result in a one-year guaranteed salary of $14.56 million, a 20-percent raise over his 2017 franchise tender of $12.1 million.
The move isn’t a surprise, because the Steelers often create artificial rules and deadlines when it comes to negotiations, and Steelers players almost always comply. Bell, frankly, should decline; the Steelers can huff and puff and leak unflattering details about Bell and otherwise whine about him taking a hard line, but Bell has the leverage. And he should use it.
Maybe Bell has decided to quit fighting. Maybe he has decided to go along in order to get along. His interests may be better served by recognizing that the Steelers will have hundreds of these negotiations over time. For Bell, this may be it.
Besides, what are they going to do if he declines their best offer before February 20? Not sign him at all? Not tag him? For now, the Steelers need Bell more than Bell needs the Steelers. The moment that equation flips, the Steelers will immediately commence squeezing Bell’s balls.
For now, Bell is the one with the power to squeeze. And squeeze he should.
The players take the physical risks. The players hold no equity. The players get only what they can get while they are playing at a level high enough to let them get it. And that’s exactly what Bell should do.