On Monday, running back Le'Veon Bell said goodbye to Miami. He reportedly won’t be saying hello to Pittsburgh this week.
Via Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, the Steelers do not expect the holdout tailback to report before Thursday night’s game against the Panthers.
If Bell doesn’t show up by next Tuesday, he can’t play at all in 2018. Which would create a different set of rights and responsibilities for 2019, as to both the Steelers and Bell.
There’s a growing belief Bell won’t show up at all in 2018. If that happens, the Steelers would be able to re-tag him again in 2019, at the same $14.54 million franchise tender that was applied in 2018. (If he shows up by next Tuesday, the Steelers would have to offer the quarterback franchise tender in order to tag him for a third time.)
The latest story from ESPN includes an odd quote from an unnamed source regarding the question of whether Bell will show up at all.
“If he doesn’t want to play for $14.5 million, why would he want to play for $5 million?” the unnamed source told ESPN, in reference to the money Bell would make if he shows up by next Tuesday. (Under his current tender, he’d make $5.985 million, subject to two weeks of reduced pay while on roster-exempt status.)
Here’s why he would want to play for up to $5.985 million: If Bell doesn’t show at all, it will be easier for the Steelers to keep him from an unfettered windfall on the first day of free agency.
Apparently, there’s been a misconception at ESPN regarding the details of Bell’s status, as evidenced by a final paragraph to the current story, which declares that “Bell does not have to report to the Steelers by a certain date to get an accrued season to become eligible for free agency, contrary to what ESPN and others previously reported.”
Hey, ESPN, don’t lump the rest of us in with your mistake. Of course Bell doesn’t need an accrued season to be eligible for free agency. Still, his opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 hinges on fulfilling the minimum requirements of the second year of the franchise tag (i.e., by showing up before next Tuesday), forcing the Steelers to offer upwards of $25 million, if they choose to apply the franchise tag a third time in 2019. (The Steelers can still apply the transition tag in 2019, but we’ve already pointed out that this is an essentially meaningless option.)
So that’s where it stands. Bell can show up by Tuesday and force the Steelers to let him hit the market on day one of free agency (subject to the ultimately meaningless transition tag) or not show up by Tuesday and risk having the Steelers apply the franchise tag again next year, at $14.54 million.
Some think the Steelers would do just that, as a precursor to trading Bell to a new team — and guiding him away from a team like the Ravens.