For a handful of NFL franchises, the slow time could soon be interrupted, thanks to the most important annual deadline applicable to the franchise tag.
The Steelers , the Cowboys, the Lions, and the Rams have until Monday, July 16, to work out long-term deals with running back Le'Veon Bell, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end Ziggy Ansah, and safety Lamarcus Joyner, respectively. If a long-term deal isn’t signed and approved by the league office before 4:00 p.m. ET on the 16th, the window for doing a long-term closes until the 2018 regular season ends.
For Lawrence, Ansah, and Joyner (each of whom have signed the one-year franchise tender), it would put them each on track for a 20-percent raise in 2019 or a trip to the open market — absent a long-term deal with their current teams negotiated after the season ends. For Bell, who hasn’t signed the franchise tender, it means the quarterback franchise tag for 2019 or unrestricted free agency, absent a last-ditch effort to negotiate a long-term contract between the end of the regular season and the moment Bell signs elsewhere.
The Cowboys and Lawrence reportedly will talk this week. For the Lions, the indication consistently has been that they hope to assess Ansah in 2018 and make a long-term decision for 2019. The Rams would probably have a hard time giving big money to Joyner before finally extending the contract of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is a year away from the franchise-tag dance.
Bell remains the biggest name, and his situation presents the highest stakes. Last year, he exercised his prerogative to stay away from the team until Labor Day, which allowed him to apply maximum leverage while still getting his full $12.1 million salary. Until he signs the tender, the Steelers could rescind it.
That remains unlikely, but it would definitely put Bell in a tough spot, thrusting him onto the market long after the big money has been spent and the rosters have been set. The Steelers would do it only if they believe they can thrive without Bell. Few if any outside the organization do.
Still, if they don’t sign him to a long-term deal before July 16, the Steelers may end up having to find a way to thrive without Bell in 2019, and beyond.