Last month, running back Le'Veon Bell admitted that he and the Steelers had designated February 20 as the deadline for doing a long-term deal. February 20 only has a few hours remaining in it, and there’s no sign that a contract will be finalized.
That lack of a deal meshes with the sense that emerged last year regarding the absence of talks between Bell and the Steelers, as the deadline approached.
It nevertheless was an artificial deadline, undoubtedly selected by the team in order to get Bell signed well before having to choose between tagging him again or letting him head toward the open market. As previously explained, Bell should resist any effort to sign him before he knows whether he will or won’t be tagged, because the context for negotiations can’t be fully formulated without knowing whether the tag will be used.
If tagged, Bell will be entitled to a one-year salary of $14.5 million — and he won’t be required to show up before Labor Day, which he chose to do a year ago (to the team’s chagrin). The question then becomes what will he trade on a long-term deal for the $14.5 million that he’ll make this year, knowing that in 2019 he’ll definitely end up on the open market, with more than $26.6 million earned for two NFL seasons?
If not tagged, the Steelers then will have to compete with anyone else who may want to try to lure Bell to town, and there’s a good chance someone else will offer more (maybe significantly more) than the Steelers.
It’s no surprise, then, that reports already are surfacing that the Steelers will tag Bell, absent a long-term deal that comes after the supposed deadline. The prospect of one more year with Bell at $14.5 million apparently is more attractive than no more years with Bell.
Then, after he’s tagged, the question will become whether the two sides can get a deal done before the real deadline of July 16.
For more on Bell, the franchise tag, and plenty of other topics, check out the latest PFT PM podcast.