What a three weeks it’s been.
As of Week One, the Steelers were adamant that they wouldn’t trade running back Le'Veon Bell. Last week, they were suddenly listening to offers. Now, the media outlet of which they own a 1/32nd share reports that the Steelers are “actively” shopping Bell.
A trade will be impossible to accomplish without Bell’s cooperation, because there’s nothing to trade unless Bell is under contract. Before a deal can be done, Bell would have to be persuaded to sign a one-year contract. And given that Bell is concerned about overuse as he approaches his free-agency prize in March, he’ll likely want more than his current rate of $855,000 per week before signing anything.
Beyond satisfying Bell, the team that trades for him will have to make an offer the Steelers won’t refuse. The network partially owned by the Steelers says they want a second-round pick and a “good” player.
The problem for the team that pays Bell and compensates the Steelers becomes this: The team will be acquiring a one-year rental, with no ability to sign Bell to a long-term deal until after the regular season ends. That team also risks a postseason walkout by Bell, who may refuse to play for a playoff share (peanuts in comparison to his in-season pay) unless he gets a long-term deal to his liking as soon as the regular season ends.
To make this happen, it may require a suitor made desperate by, for example, a season-ending injury to a dual-threat workhorse tailback on a playoff contender. And so the Steelers would be smart to sit on Bell through Week Eight, waiting to see whether someone becomes sufficiently desperate to make the deal(s) necessary to make a trade.
And if there’s no trade, what happens next? Given that the Steelers are now openly contemplating life without Bell, the fallback to trading him may not be waiting for him to show up after Week 10 but rescinding the franchise tender before he can.