Transition tag in 2019 won’t do much for the Steelers

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As Sunday Splash! reports go, this one is like a can opener gone haywire.

Drum roll, please. The Steelers can use the transition tag next year on Le’Veon Bell!

Of course they can. And, of course, his reduced earnings in 2018 would relegate him to the standard transition tag for tailbacks in 2019. And, of course, that would be a much cheaper alternative than the franchise tag if Bell shows up before November 13, gets credit for the contract year, and becomes eligible for the quarterback franchise tender in 2019.

So, fine. The Steelers can use the transition tag on Bell. But what will it get them? A right to match an offer sheet signed elsewhere, and nothing more.

If/when someone like the Jets signs Bell to a front-loaded offer sheet that contains a structure and an amount that the Steelers consistently have refused to extend to Bell, what will the Steelers do? Match out of spite?

At the very most, they’d match the offer sheet and then trade him. But that would be a risky proposition, requiring the kind of advance wink-nod dealmaking in which the Steelers typically won’t engage.

With James Conner still under contract for two more years at cash and cap figures far less than whatever Bell would get elsewhere, the Steelers would be foolish to match the kind of offer sheet Bell is likely to attract. So why even use it in the first place?

To summarize, the Steelers can indeed use the transition tag, even if no one ever doubted their ability to that. Even if they use it, they’ll be in the same position they’d be in if they don’t: Watching Bell walk away with no compensation in 2019, and a potential compensatory draft pick for 2020.