It was a no-brainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers to put a franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell.
What’s more of a head-scratcher what’s happened since: nothing.
Bell missed both the optional OTAs and the Steelers’ mandatory mini-camp. He also underwent surgery for a serious groin injury, so it's possible he’s still just rehabilitating.
That would be the normal assumption, and it could very well be the case. But there’s probably more going on here, because Bell also hasn’t signed a contract extension with Pittsburgh, despite the prospective $12-million payday.
His teammates have missed him, even if they weren’t expecting him to do any heavy lifting this spring:
So what’s the deal? Most likely, contract negotiations. It all hinges on what happens on, or before, July 15th.
Bell is one of the best and most versatile running backs in the entire league, and he probably wants a contract that reflects that value. If he want’s a long-term deal, and what player doesn’t, the Steelers could be spending a lot.
Right now, Bell is worth the $12-million per season, but a five-year $60 million contract is apparently a bit much for the Steelers organization to swallow.
If the Steelers and Bell can’t find some middle ground by July 15th, the league's contract extension deadline, we could be looking at another high-profile contract holdout.
Bell hasn’t signed the franchise-tag tender, and is technically not under contract. That’s important because it means he can’t be fined for missing mandatory events like the mini-camp, and if this lasts, training camp and the preseason.
So what are the options?
If July 15th passes with no deal, Pittsburgh can pull the franchise-tag and leave Bell an unrestricted free agent. Eww. Not likely.
If the Steelers and Bell decide to play hardball after July 15th, then they get to play contract chicken.
Right now, it looks like Bell could be emulating the negotiating tactics of guys like Victor Cruz and Marshawn Lynch, who have used their unique positions of leverage to negotiate new deals.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but you can hardly blame one of the premier talents in the NFL for looking out for his own interests. All we can do now is wait.
Source: Dan Sager - BehindTheSteelerCurtain · Photo Credit: KEYSTONE PRESS