Just what the Pittsburgh Steelers needed before their first playoff game this season: Le’Veon Bell making threats about being franchise tagged again.
The Steelers’ star running back told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that if he is tagged again he is prepared to sit out all of the 2018 season and perhaps even retire.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I would definitely consider it,” Bell told ESPN.
Bell’s franchise tag number next year would be about $14.5 million, which isn’t crazy for a player of his talent level. Bell has wanted a massive contract, citing the desire to help all running backs in an era that has devalued the position. It wouldn’t be too hard to see the Steelers calling Bell’s bluff and tagging him again. Bell’s tag this season was $12.1 million, so $14.5 million isn’t outrageous.
Retirement seems extreme, but Bell’s rationalization to ESPN was that if he sits out 2018, he’d probably be finished entirely.
“I’ve made a lot of money, I’m happy where I’m at, I’ve got a good family — I don’t really need to play football,” Bell told ESPN. “Right now, I’m just kind of doing it because I love it. Now, I’ve done everything but own a Super Bowl …
“I don’t necessarily care about the money aspect of it. I just want to be valued where I’m at.”
That term kept coming up in the ESPN story: value. That’s a hard thing to get a handle on. Bell already turned down a deal that reportedly would have given him $30 million guaranteed over the first two seasons. Among running backs under contract for next year, Devonta Freeman’s average salary of $8.25 million is No. 1. If Bell did sit out 2018 if he’s tagged again, he’d be turning down a deal that far surpasses what any other back will be getting. Bell’s value in 2018 gets even more complicated because he has logged 406 touches already this season, before the Steelers’ start the playoffs, and that many touches usually has an effect on running backs in future years.
This is all probably a discussion for the offseason, but Bell is talking about it now. Last year, Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live controversy became an issue during the Steelers playoff run. Now the headlines are what might happen with Bell next season. It’s not ideal.
Bell is certainly one of the best running backs, and best players, in the NFL. If he hits free agency, he’ll find some team willing to invest heavily in him. If he gets tagged and doesn’t get to test free agency, then things might get sticky.
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