Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell plans to return to the team in less than two weeks. This gives the Steelers more than enough time to rescind the franchise tender, if they are simply ready to move on from him. Per a league source, they don’t intend to.
But they’ll also have a window to trade him, if they’d prefer to simply move on. If Bell returns during Week Seven, the Steelers will be able to move Bell until the window closes on the Tuesday after Week Eight. Per a league source, the Steelers continue to consider the possibility of getting what they can for Bell before the trade deadline.
In assessing what they can get for a partial-year rental of Bell, the Steelers need to consider whether the 2020 compensatory draft pick arising from Bell’s departure would outweigh whatever someone offers for him now. There’s also another factor to consider.
Even though use of the transition tender in 2019 (a third application of the franchise tag costs at least $25 million) would give the Steelers only a right to match an offer sheet and no compensation, they could match an offer sheet signed under the transition tender and then promptly trade Bell to the team that signed him to the offer sheet.
“If a Club exercises its Right of First Refusal and matches an Offer Sheet, that Club may not trade that player to the Club that submitted the Offer Sheet for at least one calendar year, unless the player consents to such trade,” the labor deal states regarding the procedures for matching offers.
So the Steelers could: (1) welcome Bell back for the balance of 2018; (2) apply the transition tag to him in 2019 (at a 20-percent increase over his actual earnings in 2018, the transition tender would be as much as $11.29 million); (3) make it quietly known that the Steelers intend to match any offer but are willing to match and trade; (4) secure Bell’s consent to that procedure; (5) wait for someone to sign Bell to an offer sheet; (6) match the offer sheet; and (7) trade Bell to the team that signed him to an offer sheet. (The Steelers also could match the offer sheet and trade Bell to a different team; his consent would not be required, although it’s hard to imagine a team trading for Bell if he doesn’t want to play for that team.)
A transition-tag-and-trade approach wouldn’t be easy, but it would definitely be doable. And it’s another dynamic for the Steelers to consider as they try to figure out how to proceed with a player about whom they seemingly have become ambivalent.