The ongoing saga of whether Le'Veon Bell will sign a long-term deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers will come to a halt soon if the two parties do not reach agreement on a new contract. The stop sign at the end of the road is a July 17th deadline for NFL teams to sign their franchise-tagged players.
Following the deadline, Bell would play for under a one-year tender which will guarantee him $12.12 million for the 2017 season. Bell, however, has yet to sign his tender and remains the only player in the league who has not done so this offseason.
A new contract would more than likely make Bell the highest paid running back in the NFL. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy currently leads all players at his position with a salary commanding $8 million per year. He became the king of the hill following the Minnesota Vikings release of Adrian Peterson, who was averaging $14 million dollars per season after signing a seven-year, $96 million deal back in 2011. That deal made Peterson the highest-paid running back in NFL history. The Vikings would've owed AP $18 million for the 2017 season but cut ties with the 2012 NFL MVP following several seasons filled with suspensions and injuries.
The same suspension and injury concerns could be a part of the hold up between the Steelers and Bell. Bell has missed games in all of his four seasons in the league due to off-field issues or getting hurt. The latest development was offseason surgery to Bell's groin, an injury which removed him from the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. (Le'Veon carried the ball six times and was removed shortly after the first quarter of the game.)
The Steelers aren't a team which traditionally breaks the bank on players, whether they are homegrown or free agents. A record-setting deal makes sense for Bell but might not happen in 2017. Pittsburgh may take a wait and see approach rather than invest more than Bell's guaranteed $12 million-plus this year. The team could exercise another franchise tag on the star running back in 2018, with Bell's price tag moderately increasing by a percentage based on the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Should that happen, Bell would make an estimated $26.7 million over a two-year span.
Bell's agents know this, and so do the Steelers. Therefore a "fair" contract would have to guarantee Bell that money and then some. A multi-year deal is what Bell's agents are more than likely advocating for, with a large guarantee to protect their player. Likewise, the Steelers may not want to invest a larger sum of money on Bell, unless they get a broader picture that he can be available for an entire season.
The process isn't wearing on Bell, who spoke recently with ESPN's Jeremy Fowler:
I'm good with everything, just taking it day to day for real.
Despite sitting out the Steelers offseason programs, Bell appears to be full-go for the regular season. While some speculate the running back could sit out the team's training camp, it would not be in Bell's best interest. His only leverage is to not sign the franchise tag; should he fail to do so by the July 17th deadline, Bell would have to work out a different one-year deal, play under would not be permitted to play during the 2017 season.
That gives them until July 15 to work out a long-term contract before Bell would be left with the choice of playing out the year on his franchise tender, working out a different one-year deal or sitting out the 2017 season. In addition, the exclusive rights franchise tag protects the Steelers. Le'Veon cannot play for another team unless they were to send Pittsburgh two first-round draft picks for the rights to sign the running back.
Therefore, I fully expect Bell to play for the Steelers in 2017; not signing his tender, and sitting out the season, would be a costly, $12 million dollar mistake.