NFL teams love to embrace the provisions of the CBA that give them leverage and options. And NFL teams love to ignore the provisions of the CBA that limit their power.
On both sides of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, NFL teams currently are contemplating the application of a tag in a manner that would violate the labor deal, which expressly requires that any team that extends the franchise or transition tender must have a good-faith intention to employ the player at the amount of the tender.
The Eagles reportedly are considering using the franchise tag in order to facilitate a trade of quarterback Nick Foles, not to pay $25 million in 2019 to a backup quarterback. Likewise, the Steelers reportedly are considering using the transition tag in order to pull off what would be a more convoluted effort to trade running back Le'Veon Bell.
As explained by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Ideally, the Steelers would find a team interested in Bell, place the transition tag on him, sign him and trade him to that interested team the same day.”
But the ideal scenario will require the cooperation of Bell and his agent, Adisa Bakari. Bell can’t be traded unless and until he signs the transition tender. If he doesn’t sign it, he can’t be traded.
The ideal scenario also relies on Bell and Bakari not filing a grievance challenging the Steelers’ effort to tag Bell solely to trade him, and not to employ him at whatever the amount of the transition tender would be. (The fact that he skipped all of the 2018 season complicates the analysis, although the better argument seems to be that he’d be entitled to his $14.54 million franchise tender amount from last season.)
The better approach would be to tag Bell, wait for someone to sign him to a long-term deal, match the offer, and then trade him, either to the team that signed him to the offer or someone else. (A trade to the team that signed Bell to the offer sheet would require the express consent of Bell.)
Although the Steelers’ tag-and-trade plan would violate the CBA, a plan to tag him and keep him would defy common sense, especially with both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels operating under far more reasonably-priced rookie deals.
So if the Steelers apply the transition tag, Bell should fight it. It’s a fight he could win.