For much of the 2018 season, it was believed that Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell needed to show up by the Tuesday after Week 10 in order to position himself for free agency in 2019. Bell and his agent believed that, too.
That’s why, and how, Bell’s plan to report after Week Seven became a plan to sit out the whole year.
“That was the biggest mix-up the whole time,” Bell told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “I thought I had to sit out until Week 10 or else they can [franchise] tag me again [at $14.54 million]. Around the bye week, that’s when I found out I didn’t have to play.”
Instead, the rules contemplate that, even if the player never plays under the second franchise tag, the next franchise tag will be the third franchise tag — and the price the third franchise tag becomes the average of the five highest-paid players at the highest-paid position, which always will be quarterback.
Bell told Fowler that Bell learned this “new information” on social media, that he consulted his agent, Adisa Bakari, about the situation, and that Bell then decided not to show up. (This is a roundabout way of Bell admitting that his agent didn’t know about the rule.)
Even after Bell realized that he could skip the full season and still force his way to free agency, Bell thought about showing up for the final weeks of the season.
“I was so close to doing it,” Bell said. “At the same time, I was so torn. Do I go through that? Will they embrace me or will they not? I eventually decided I sat out 10 games, I can sit six more. At the time, the team was malfunctioning, having problems, a lot of blame on me. I didn’t want to come back and not feel welcome.”
Bell also had concerns about suffering an injury during the final six games of the season. So he skipped the entire year, the Steelers couldn’t (as a practical matter) apply the franchise tag for a third time, they decided not to use the transition tag after they learned it would have cost $14.54 million, they let him hit the open market, and now Bell is a Jet.
Most importantly, every non-quarterback now tagged for a second time knows that he can sit out the full season and force his way to the open market the next year.