With running back Le'Veon Bell refusing to commit to the Steelers for five years and $70 million (asterisk), there’s another question to consider: Will the Steelers ultimately refuse to commit to Bell for one year and $14.5 million?
The options available to Bell regarding when to accept the franchise tender and report for duty is premised on the assumption that the franchise tender will still be available to be accepted. Until Bell accepts the franchise tender, the Steelers could (in theory) yank it.
During a March visit to PFT Live, Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert didn’t rule out the possibility of rescinding the tender. While that seemed more like a standard “we can’t rule out anything”-type of a comment, it’s now a relevant consideration for the Steelers, who may not be willing to pay Bell that much money for one final season, especially if he’s not going to show up until six days before it begins.
Coincidentally (or not), Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com noted on Monday that popular second-year tailback James Conner was solid in the offseason program and “looks like he can be a solid every-down back in this league.” For the Steelers, it’s got be tempting to consider embracing Conner and his $578,000 salary for the entire year over Bell’s $852,000 for each and every week.
Or how about this possibility? Pair Conner with someone like, say, Adrian Peterson. Or DeMarco Murray. (That retirement would end quickly if the Steelers call.) Or Alfred Morris. Or some other veteran tailback who has proven that he can get it done. Whatever the on-field production, the cost would surely be much less than the combined $15 million that will be paid to Bell and Conner.
As to the on-field production, the Steelers now must consider whether they’ll truly get the best out of Bell in 2018. Sure, he’s saying all the right things. But will he be making business decisions between the white lines, especially as the calendar slides to November and December?
Throw in the fact that Bell has become the rare Steelers player to refuse to submit to the team’s wishes, and the Steelers could decide that it’s in the team’s short- and long-term best interests to sever ties before he signs the tender. And the most shrewd play would be to not rescind the tender today (which could spark a mini-land rush from teams like, perhaps, the Bills, Jets, Browns, Ravens, Texans, Colts, Raiders, Broncos, Eagles, or Packers) but right after the last preseason game, when all teams have their hay in the barn and no one will be in position, as a practical matter, to give Bell big money.
Rescinding the tender remains an unlikely outcome, but it’s not all that difficult to see the dominoes fall in a way that would prompt the Steelers to choose to accelerate their looming divorce with Bell by four or five months — especially if they’re upset that he refused their latest long-term offer.