What’s the end game for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell?

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Now that the Steelers can’t trade running back Le'Veon Bell, the possible outcomes to the relationship are more limited.

Here are the options: (1) Bell shows up, signs his franchise tender by 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, November 13, and finishes the season as a member of the Steelers; (2) Bell doesn’t show up by 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, November 13, which prevents him from playing for the Steelers or anyone else in 2018; or (3) the Steelers rescind the franchise tender before Bell can sign it, making him a free agent.

If Bell signs the tender before November 13, he’ll get credit for fulfilling the contract in 2018, forcing the Steelers to choose between applying the franchise tag in 2019 (they won’t, because by rule it would be the quarterback tender), applying the transition tag (they possibly would, but likely wouldn’t match an offer sheet he signs elsewhere given the presence of James Conner), or letting him walk away in free agency. If Bell doesn’t sign the tender before November 13, the Steelers could apply the franchise tag in 2019 at the same amount as it was in 2018, i.e. $14.54 million. The Steelers also could use the transition tag or let Bell walk away in 2019.

Here’s a thought that emerged during Tuesday’s #PFTPM podcast, in response to a question from a listener. What if the Steelers privately tell Bell that if he doesn’t show up at all in 2018 (saving them $855,000 per week for the remaining seven weeks of the regular season) the Steelers won’t tag him again in 2019?

It would be an unenforceable agreement, and technically a CBA violation, but teams and players routinely strike unenforceable agreements that technically violate the CBA. In this case, the Steelers would avoid spending nearly $6 million on a player they no longer want, and Bell would avoid feeling compelled to show up for the final seven weeks in order to ensure that he’ll become a free agent.

It would be a win-win outcome, with the Steelers letting Bell leave in March and getting consideration toward compensatory draft picks in 2020. And it makes the most sense, even if no one would ever admit that it happened.

So, basically, don’t be shocked if Bell doesn’t show up, and if the Steelers don’t tag him next year. That would be at best circumstantial evidence of a wink-nod agreement that allows Bell to get to free agency without forcing him or the team to continue a relationship that neither side seems to be interested in continuing.

94 responses to “What’s the end game for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell?

  1. Being a long time Steelers fan myself, all I can say is I don’t care what kind of agreement they do behind the scenes as long as Bell is gone. No matter how he wants to spin it, at the end of the day this was all about putting himself before the team. Doesn’t matter if you agree with him or not, any franchise worth its salt knows that the system should trump the individual if they have real championship aspirations.

    So goodbye Bell. Hope wherever you land it was worth it. Steelers will march on like they always have, being one of the dominant franchise in the NFL along with others like the Patriots and the Packers. There is a reason why year in year out those franchise are right there while everyone else is trying to land bad free agents like Bell who ultimately ruin said franchise.

  2. How about they don’t negotiate with this pariah at all. I predict this season will mark the turning point in his career. Whoever pays him won’t get their money’s worth and he will be released before his contract is complete.

  3. You are basically saying Bell has voluntarily given up $14.5 mil. No matter how much he receives in free agency, he is very unlikely to ever recoup that money over the long run. His principle stand has been a financial loss.

  4. pittsburgh fans r gonna love it and change their tune when leveon bell is healthy in the playoffs…wise of bell to not risk the injury like earl thomas

  5. Whatever happens, assuming he shows up at some point to get credit for the year, the Steelers will get a 2 week roster exemption for Bell. During this period,they will not play him but also they are not required to pay him during this 2 week period (they could agree to, but why would they?)

  6. Honestly, I think I can speak for most fans when I say they need to get rid of all of the tags. It just gives way to too much unnecessary drama and distraction, especially when the player involved is as much of a Diva as Bell is.

  7. Or…. he shows up, and after a few weeks of getting back into game shape he gets 10-12 carries a game and helps a little. Both sides will benefit and pretend like all is OK, and go separate ways at end of season. I know it’s tough to inagine this, as it has very little drama.

  8. If sitting out a year increases his lifetime earnings potential, perhaps he should sit out two.

  9. Who knows about Bell and the Steelers but why didn’t the the NFL move the Rams & Saints to prime time Sunday ??

    The No. 1 & 2 teams in the league tied at 7-1. Instead we get the Cowboys vs Titans. O Boy.

  10. Not a Steelers fan, but I feel like Bell has made a bad decision missing out on millions this year. He’ll probably have a team offer him big money in March but it’s a risky move.

    If I were the Steelers and he doesn’t sign by 11/13, I’d slap him with the same franchise tender next year.

    Your move Mr. Bell.

  11. New CBA can’t come soon enough. Not that I have great confidence in it all getting fixed right, but it is inexcusable to allow one of the league’s best and most exciting players to not even suit up for a year.

  12. To have a “Wink Wink” agreement, there has to be a high level of trust between the two parties. Otherwise it wont work out.

    Bell is a fool for not showing up so far, and a bigger fool if he doesnt show up by week 10.

  13. and then the steelers are sitting pretty with the salary cap in 2019. Bell’s 2018 14.5m rolls into 2019, Bell is no longer on the books, and Shazier’s 8m is also off of the books. that is 37m instantly available in 2019 that wasn’t there in 2018.

  14. Given that they could not use the salary they saved by Bell not showing up on adding to the team this year, the point is that the Steelers save financially and maybe boost their cap next year ?

    I think if you are all in on the season and the Bell deal is what it is, why would the Steelers not be really interested in having Bell show up for the end of the season and the playoffs? The money ship has sailed. The addition of his talent and depth cannot be described as a bad thing for the run from an on field perspective. Even as a backup to Conner who can get hurt, and even as another weapon if say Vance McDonald were injured.

    The one thing I do not understand is cap carryover. If the Steelers use less than the Cap this year because they do not pay Bell who was accounted for against the cap this year, is that a direct add to the cap next year?

  15. It’s also possible that he won’t show up because he’s bad at math.

    There’s no way he’ll ever make up the money he’s lost, and now every team he approaches can point to Conner’s production behind that offensive line. There’s a sucker born every minute (trust me; I follow a team led by Ryan Pace), but he has done his heirs no favors this year.

  16. A few of the Steelers OL felt LBell duped them into covering for him throughout training camp and the preseason and were NOT happy about it.

    Many Steelers fans would therefore not be surprised if those same OL have a wink-nod agreement of their own for a few of LBell’s carries once he finally does show up.

  17. Here is what I think the problem really is: I don’t think Le’Veon Bell WANTS to play football any longer…for anyone. I truly think he’s lost the love to play and figures he already has enough money to live comfortably on for the rest of his life ($3.5M). He also saw what happened to teammate Ryan Shazier and may be being pressured to retire by his family. Just my thought.

  18. Football is becoming a sport designed by lawyers, managed by marketing executives, and played by people who hate the country where it’s played. So exciting.

  19. Don’t think he will fail to show for several reasons. The biggest reason; the money he would lose is considerable. He also would like to force the Steelers to “pay” for not giving him a new contract. I suspect that Teams will want to see him play this year before spending money on a long term contract.

    He will sign Wednesday 10/31 so he gets paid this week.

  20. Bell has a James Conner problem. If Bell comes back he risks looking like the second best RB on the team and hurting any chance he has at Todd Gurley money. Considered the amount of time Bell has missed, the length of time it took him to work himself into shape last year, and Conner displaying big play ability and and a knack for getting into the end zone that Bell has never demonstrated, the risk of Bell hurting his value is all too real.

  21. The biggest loser here is likely his agent.

    1. Lost commissions on a really very good contract for a RB
    2. Lost reputation for the debacle this has become
    3. Likely floating Bell money to keep up his lifestyle against “The killer contract you’re sure to sign” so when Bell doesn’t – he’s out money and has to sue Bell for cash Bell doesn’t have

    How his agent has any clients left is beyond me because surely this isn’t all Bell.

  22. orb1943 says:
    October 31, 2018 at 1:06 am
    What is it about the word “contract” that Bell does not understand?
    ————————

    You don’t understand the franchise tag. Bell isn’t under contract. The franchise tender is a one year contract offer. It also gives the team control over the players rights and preventing the player becoming a free agent. The player is not under contract until he signs the tender.

  23. riverhorsey says:
    October 31, 2018 at 12:24 am
    Who knows about Bell and the Steelers but why didn’t the the NFL move the Rams & Saints to prime time Sunday ??

    The No. 1 & 2 teams in the league tied at 7-1. Instead we get the Cowboys vs Titans. O Boy.
    ________________________________________________________________________
    One reason is the Sunday night game is Packer / Patriots , Dallas / Titans is the monday night game.

  24. I just get the feeling, along with Conners performance, that Bell made the type of move that will be an example of what others shouldnt do in the future. I dont believe Bell will get back the value he lost trying to get more value.

    Hes coming across like another sour baby malcontent millionaire. A real new age Latrell Sprewell.

  25. Someone will probably pay him but how good will he be? Teams with the O-line talent already have a great back. There is a real possibility that Bell never has the type of production he did at Pit.
    But in the end he will have been paid.
    Maybe that is all he cares about anyway.

  26. Its not about making up $$ he lost. If he played and broke his leg he is giving up 30 million plus most likely of gauranteed money. 30>14
    Contracts have two sides. He is willing to forfeit the money for not playing. That is actually written in the contract. So…

  27. Conner playing the way he is costs Bell more money every week. It’s obvious that it’s a great system with a strong o-line and passing attack. The fact that the Steelers aren’t clamoring to get Bell back should tell other teams a lot about his worth.

  28. So if the Steelers plan on letting the clown walk for a couple of comp. picks why wouldn’t they have just traded him yesterday to any team that would eat the 8 mill and a 4th round pick?

  29. orb1943 says:
    October 31, 2018 at 1:06 am
    What is it about the word “contract” that Bell does not understand?

    —-

    What is it about Bell not being under contract that you don’t understand?

  30. As sad as I was, and still am, that Eddie Lacy flamed out, I’m still glad as can be the Packers didn’t draft Bell. At least the Lacy flame out was relatively quick, like ripping off the Band-Aid in one quick motion; this foolishness is more like burning the Band-Aid off, one match at a time.

  31. Have to laugh at the “trust” comments regarding the Steelers. So far as I know, there has never been a player that has left the Steelers that accused them of not holding up their end of the deal. The Bell situation is what it is, both sides played within the rules of the CBA. My opinion, Bell gambled and lost. He will get a good deal from someone, but it probably won’t be any better than what was offered by the Steelers. Possibly, not even that good.

  32. OK. If Bell does not show up this year it is because he’s afraid of testing( suspension ,no contract). IfBell shows up he will finish the season with the Steelers as a backup. There will be no wink wink deal with Pittsburgh and there will be no contract offer to Bell. BYE BYE Bell, hello third round compensatory pick. if Connor gets hurt in the meantime, the charade starts all over again.

  33. historyisyourfriend says:
    October 30, 2018 at 11:27 pm
    Being a long time Steelers fan myself, all I can say is I don’t care what kind of agreement they do behind the scenes as long as Bell is gone. No matter how he wants to spin it, at the end of the day this was all about putting himself before the team. Doesn’t matter if you agree with him or not, any franchise worth its salt knows that the system should trump the individual if they have real championship aspirations.

    So goodbye Bell. Hope wherever you land it was worth it. Steelers will march on like they always have, being one of the dominant franchise in the NFL along with others like the Patriots and the Packers. There is a reason why year in year out those franchise are right there while everyone else is trying to land bad free agents like Bell who ultimately ruin said franchise

    ==========================
    youre the only one that sees the steelers on new englands level. the rest of the nfl world sees it as it is. the steelers are good, but not good enough. they post a good enough record every year to just fall short. theyll never get past the patriots as long as ben is qb and tomlin is coach.

  34. I don’t care what Bell or his agent thinks. He will NEVER make up the money he’s losing right now. These aren’t NBA or MLB contracts where 100M-200M are guaranteed. Bell will be lucky to make 40-50M in his career. Probably less. Meaning his net income will be no more than 20M. The way these athletes live, that won’t last him a lifetime. Turning down 7-8M net is not recoverable. That’s about 1/3 of what he’ll ever take home.

  35. Football is a business and Bell made, for right or wrong, a business decision. He didn’t break any rules or violate his contract. NFL owners have tremendous leverage over players…much more than NBA or MLB owners…and I find it amusing when fans side with the billionaire owners in these contract squabbles. Perhaps fans just care about their team’s success and could care less about the player. Bell is doing what he feels is right for himself and his family while these fans critical of his actions only care about themselves.

  36. I wonder how Mr. Bell would define “being a good team mate” as he is traveling on free agent visits after the season. I feel this situation has clearly shown that he puts self far above team and organization. Even if he has all the talent in the world, I would never want this cancer on my team.

  37. If you are what your record says you are, Bell is a 3.9/yds per carry back. Great hands, great pass protection, but, 3.9 yds pet carry behind a great line. What is Connor’s average. You have been revealed Lev. Next

  38. I hope he ends up playing for Buffalo next year, averaging 2.7 yds/carry behind that line. he benefited from a great offense in Pgh, WRs and OL are 2nd to none…next year it would be great seeing him taking handoffs from Derek Anderson and getting creamed as soon as he touches the ball.

  39. pull the tag now. this crap is a distraction that has been going on too long. i think the steelers players privately don’t want him back this late in the season. they do not need to add more drama to the team.

  40. Bell is probably delusional enough that he can make up that $14.5M on his next contract. I’m sure he thinks he’s going to get something like a five-year $100M contract with half the money up front. I think he’s going to be in for a rude awakening–especially after seeing how Conner has played this year. If teams really think he’ll be just as productive in their system they are fooling themselves.

  41. If the Princess does show up this year I believe Pittsburgh should place him on their scout team. He will probably moan and be a pain in the *ss. Then don’t dress him for any games. Word will get out about his attitude and teams may pay him less.

  42. I think a lot of commenters here don’t understand that Bell played out his contract.

    The franchise tag was designated upon him; its his right to accept or not. I think it is ludicrous that if he chooses to sit the entire year, that the Steelers can tag him again. Losing a year’s salary is sufficient penalty.

  43. So, if I’m reading this correctly, someone thinks that Bell will forego the $6m this season that he could potentially make because of a wink-wink agreement that the Steelers won’t tag him again next year?

    If Bell does this, he just might be the stupidest person in the world and deserves all of this vitriol he’s getting from fans.

    It would be priceless for this scenario to play out and then the Steelers tag him next off-season and be like “what? we didn’t have an agreement in place…”

  44. People with undoubtedly question Bell’s loyalty to the team, but his entitlement to a monster payday (given his unquestioned skill at the position) – in a sport where most players are washed up at age 30 – can’t be overlooked. He definitely could have handled the situation better from a PR standpoint, but I for one think he’s doing the right thing in terms of securing his financial situation for the rest of his life. Think Earl Thomas. Let the down-votes flow…

  45. I am a Steelers fan and have read, with some amusement, the comments on this story.

    Perhaps I can help:
    1. Per the CBA, Bell cannot he traded until he signs his tag contract- until then, he CANNOT be traded. So all of you out there (INCLUDING Mr Florio!) who have been clamoring for, and not understanding why, Bell has NOT been traded, there you are…..
    2. The Steelers have a rep as a ‘good citizen’ in the collection of 32 teams that are not always that way. They have NEVER screwed somebody out of a contract, once signed.
    3. Bell has every right to do what he has. Just as the team has the right to proceed as they have. Classic situation where 2rights make a WRONG!!

    Bell and Conner can not coexist on this team – NOT because they don’t get along, they do. But because with a great offense that has the best WR in the game, a top 3 O line, and a future HOF QB, there are LOTS of options and they don’t have to include Bell as RB. Bell has a contract that is like 15x that if Conner in value. What would YOU do?

    Finally I feel BAD for Bell. He is a young kid that has an agent waving elusions of grandeur (and BIG $s!) under his nose and who has led him into a no win situation through his advice, which has been toxic.

    The team is fine – Conner (who went to Pitt in college) has exceeded Bell’s production thru seven games. Bell? Not so much.

  46. Barely a year ago I had to wade through a flood of pundit reports about how incredible Bell’s “strategic hesitation” and “patience in the hole” were and how he in fact had created an entirely new style of running by parking behind his line and waiting for space to open up. Of course, what he was really doing was letting other people take the big and potentially injury causing hits while he waited for a safe path to present itself, an insight that makes his current approach to team chemistry and contract negotiations about as surprising as pumpkins at Halloween.

  47. And the Steelers will do the same with James Conner and he’ll do the same as Bell, some teams refuse to compromise long contracts to rb’s, who can’t blame them, rb’s football life are 5-7 years average, what Bell did was the smartest thing to do.

  48. this may surprise everyone, but Todd Gurley already set the market for RBs. Bell, while very good in lots of ways, isn’t BETTER…and definitely not by a wide margin. Bell has no leverage here. his replacement has more than effectively replaced him, he’s going to make him an afterthought, already doing things Bell NEVER has. he gambled, and he’s losing, but like many bad gamblers, doesn’t know when to get up from the table. the only effective way to minimize the risk of injury is to NOT play at all. he could get hurt on the first play of his first game back, so who are we really kidding? he was thinking the team would become desperate to have him back and have more incentive to give him big bucks because they would realize they NEED him to compete. it’s not working out that way so far and he looks selfish and stupid.

    maybe his plan is working just like he wanted it to…but so is the team’s. he’s not playing elsewhere and potentially helping another team do better than us. they’re saving money each week he stays away, and getting great looks at the current RB depth already on the team (and showing up). Offense is humming along just fine without him, and seems to be improving each week.

  49. Why is it that team owners can do what they feel is right for the team and fans are ok with that. But when a player do what he feels is right for himself fans dislike the player. If at the end of the day it’s about business, why are the fans so hard on the player whose doing a deal for himself.

  50. After seeing James Conner announced as AFC Player of the Week and seeing that Connor’s stats actually exceed his own past statistics YTD Le’Veon is thinking twice about his “decision” to hold out….

  51. So if it’s week 16 and the Steelers whisperer in his ear that they won’t franchise next year, why couldn’t he sign for Week 17 and play the playoffs? I see no rule that prevents him playing for the Steelers after 11/13, only that he doesn’t get an accrued year. But if the end game is to not be tagged…

  52. The end game for Bell will be him costing himself a whole lot of money. That huge, long-term deal he wants is never going to happen after this. Teams will be scared he’d totally shut it down as soon as he got a big guaranteed deal plus he’s out of shape right now so when he does finally report to the Steelers he’s not going to look like a guy you want to throw huge amounts of money at. He’ll end up signing a shorter deal where the team has the option to dump him after a year or two if they don’t like what they’re seeing.

  53. After seeing James Conner announced as AFC Player of the Week and seeing that Connor’s stats actually exceed his own past statistics YTD Le’Veon is thinking twice about his “decision” to hold out….

    After watching Connor I was happy for him and LeVeon Bell was nowhere in my thought process. Only keyboard couch potatoes enjoy riling up hatred, which is something this commenter enjoys.

  54. It would be priceless for this scenario to play out and then the Steelers tag him next off-season and be like “what? we didn’t have an agreement in place…”

    2 2 Rate This

    The musing of an idiot. The Steelers have 5oo much class to do that ….the Pats maybe, but not the Steelers.

  55. This holdout will eventually become a case study. This guy has made every wrong decision there is to make with this.

  56. Option A – he shows up in time (Novemeber 13) for the last 6 games of the 2018 season.

    Q1> can the Steelers suspend him a game or two or three if he’s not in shape?

    He will be out of shape and take several games to get back into shape. If the Steelers make the playoffs he will probably be in good shape after 6 games back, and can be useful in the playoffs.

    If he doesn’t play very well then GMs may be concerned that he’s lost a step. He’ll be 27 in January. This may cost him a couple of million per year on a contract. In addition, because of his age, teams won’t wont to go more than a few years. Would you trust his effort on a long term contract? There will be some bad teams that have cap space (the Jets) that may sign him, so he will get paid. Just maybe not what he was hoping, unless the team is foolish (I can see Mike Maccagnan of the Jets desperately trying to keep his job and paying through the nose)

    Option B – Bell doesn’t show up. This is a clear win for the Steelers. I’d tag him next year (its still a 2nd time tag, not a third time tag). Then if they can get value for him, trade him. Otherwise keep him. He’s still got ability, and if he sits out half the 2019 season he’ll have been out of the game for a year and a half. He will be good but not great.
    Good luck getting a lucrative contract after 2019.

  57. Leveon played his hand and lost big time, with the way James Conner is playing Bell has lost tremendous amount of value. The Steelers are actually a better team on 3rd down and in the red zone with Conner than they was with Bell last year. So if I’m the Steelers I’ll just cut ways and rescind the franchise tag.

  58. Not a Pats fan, but if Brady doesn’t retire, they’d be my favorite to land him, as he might fake everyone out and choose to play for a ring instead of just the Benjamins…

    Just kidding, He’s going to be a Jet for top dollar.

  59. If we are being honest Lev is a generational talent and Connor is maybe something maybe not. Lev will get paid in free agency and Pit might be on the road to being a wasteland. They had a winning tradition that overcame their reputation for not taking care of players. But it has limits.

  60. Pull the tender, let him walk. RB’s are a dime a dozen these days, especially since the NFL has become more pass oriented.

  61. If Bell walks away from 14.5 guaranteed millions, that has to be the biggest mistake ever any nfl player has made. The funny thing is all I here from people around here in the DMV is that the Steelers should of paid Bell. I guess 26 million guaranteed the last two years & a offensive system that highlights his skill set to help him break the bank in FA was disrespectful to the player. Wtf!

  62. I am so sure all these keyboard warriors attacking Bell for not playing without a long term guaranteed contract would be the first to mail him checks for lost earnings if he got injured without the aforesaid long term guaranteed contract. What a pity he does not know about these fine people.

  63. Once Bell comes back and help the Steelers continue to win all you fair weather Steelers fans will be sing his praise.

  64. Without a contract with guaranteed money, he’s just one injury away from being unemployed. That injury could happen in game 1 and that means he’s paid $855k for that one game and that’s it… he’s put out to pasture. I’m not suggesting it’s good for the team, but he’s definitely doing what’s best for himself.

    Under Article 10, Section 2(c) of the CBA, the contract can be terminated if the player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

  65. Pay him or cut him… Tags are a hardball tool to try to force players into a value they do not agree with… Bell will have a large contract looming from a team if he is healthy, and very little reason to risk playing under a tag. Bell has ALL the cards in this situation, which is VERY rare for a NFL player. Teams control & break contracts all the time on players, so it’s nice to see a player forcing a teams hand with a situation the team put themselves in.

  66. I think it’s probably what is going to happen. At this point, he can’t come back and sign. It would destroy his whole rationale for being paid as “the best RB in football” if he were to spend the remainder of the year as 2nd string backup to Conners. He can’t take that risk.

  67. If he doesn’t come back, let him walk and take the comp pick. If he does, put him on the return team and never let him touch the ball as a RB. This isn’t being vindictive- it’s seeing what the younger RB can do, and by all accounts he can handle the work load. Why mess with that at this point of the season? If Connor is going to be your RB of the future, the future starts now. Bell can stay home or work his value back up on special teams. What’s his value going to be anyway? A one year, prove-it deal? lol.

  68. If we are being honest Lev is a generational talent

    I’ve been googling best RBs of the last 10, 20 years & all time. Other than FF, Bell appears on none of these lists. Generational overstatement.

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