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Le’Veon Bell to play 2018 NFL season on franchise tag; could skip first half of year

Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers failed to agree on a long-term deal, and Bell may decide to skip actual games in order to preserve his body.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers have a hard time meeting eye-to-eye on how valuable the running back is to the club. This started last offseason when the Steelers franchise tagged their running back to the tune of $12 million. It was obvious that we were gearing up to see this through again before the 2018 season, and now here we are as the Steelers and Bell have not finalized a long-term deal by the 4:00 p.m. ET Monday deadline for tagged players to sign an extension.

Bell will now play on the $14.5 million franchise tag this season and 2018 will likely be his final year in Pittsburgh.

Bell is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He surpassed 1,200 rushing yards for the third time in his career, added 85 catches for 655 yards and he scored 11 total touchdowns. Bell actually had more catches than A.J. Green in 2017.

You could make the argument that based on touches he is more important to the Steelers than wide receiver Antonio Brown. Seriously though, what running back has 85 catches during a season?

It is still hard to say Bell is worth paying $14.5 million for, when you consider the next highest paid running backs are Devonta Freeman ($8.25 million average per year), LeSean McCoy ($8 million average per year), Saquon Barkley ($7.798 million average per year) and Jerick McCkinnon ($7.5 million average per year). Also no other team beside the Bills has more than seven percent of their cap attributed to the running back position.

With that said, Bell knows his worth, and he knows the reality of his situation. According to Adam Schefter, Bell could skip the first half of the NFL season due to the Steelers’ failure to sign him to a long-term deal. His goal would be staying healthy for when he finds a team to pay him what he feels he’s worth in 2019 when he hits free agency. The Bengals play the Steelers in Weeks 6 and 17.

If Bell does end up sitting out, he will lose out on some of that $14.5 million he is owed from the franchise tag. However, even if this is just a threat, it is a very good one, especially since Bell cannot sign a new deal with the Steelers before 2019. Bell has more than 300 touches in three of his five seasons. Last year he reached the 400 milestone, and those are all just the regular season numbers. Those numbers can add up very quickly for a running back, which is why many top backs leave college early. Bell gets that.

If Bell were to sit out, it would be because he understand the next contract he gets could very well be his only future big payday in the NFL. Bell is 26-years-old, and whatever contract he signs will likely be the last one he signs until after he turns 30, which is the dreaded milestone in which most running backs start the downhill of their career. Not to mention, Bell has easily been one of the most used running backs during the past few seasons, which means he may be going down that hill sooner than expected.

Running backs just never have as much time as you expect in the NFL. After all, we just saw DeMarco Murray announce his retirement. He had his huge 1,800 rushing yard season in 2014. In the past three seasons before retirement he only had one other 1,000 yard season. He retired at the age of 30.

Sitting out to preserve your body is a savvy move that most players wouldn’t have the courage to pull, and Bell may not even follow through on it. It would also be hard to gauge how other teams would react to that. Some will likely view it as disloyalty rather than a guy knowing his value and wanting security for the future. Still, most teams would overlook that given his production as arguably the best running back in the NFL.

Oh, and also (you’ll surely like this) the Steelers’ chances of success drop massively without Bell.

Well, looks like Bell will be playing with a new team in 2019 and now Bell’s offseason holdout will likely continue for the foreseeable future, through training camp, until he sees fit to return to the Steelers and sign his tag.

“Poor Steelers,” said no one ever.