Steelers Le'Veon Bell failed to get a big, long-term contract and now he could sit out half the season to save himself for free agency

  • Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to agree on a long-term contract by Monday's deadline.
  • According to a report, Bell could sit out half of the year to save his body for free agency next offseason.
  • Doing so would be a significant risk for Bell, but it would be an attempt to secure a lucrative long-term contract that's uncommon for running backs in the NFL today.


The deadline to sign long-term contracts in the NFL passed on Monday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell did not reach a deal.

For the second straight season, Bell is slated to play on the one-year franchise tag. This year, the tag will pay him about $14.5 million.

According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers and Bell negotiated long-term deals, with the Steelers offering deals that started around $13 million and gradually increased. According to Fowler, Bell rejected them, refusing to take less than something equal to the $14.5 million tag.

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NFL players who have switched teams this offseason

QB Kirk Cousins

Former team: Washington Redskins
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

WR Willie Snead

Former team: New Orleans Saints
2018 team: Baltimore Ravens

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CB Malcolm Butler

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Tennessee Titans

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB Richard Sherman

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

WR Sammy Watkins

Former team: Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TE Jimmy Graham

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Green Bay Packers

(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

QB Case Keenum

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: Denver Broncos

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

DE Michael Bennett

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)

QB Tyrod Taylor

Former team: Buffalo Bills
2018 team: Cleveland Browns

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

QB Sam Bradford

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WR Danny Amendola

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

WR Jarvis Landry

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Cleveland Browns

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WR Torrey Smith

Former team: Philadelphia Eagles
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

WR Paul Richardson

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Washington Redskins

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

FS Kurt Coleman

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: New Orleans Saints

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DT Haloti Ngata

Former team: Detroit Lions
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LB Anthony Hitchens

Former team: Dallas Cowboys
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

DT Star Lotulelei

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: Buffalo Bills

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RB Jonathan Stewart

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: New York Giants

(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

RB Isaiah Crowell

Former team: Cleveland Browns
2018 team: New York Jets

(Photo by Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

QB Teddy Bridgewater

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: New York Jets

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DT Muhammad Wilkerson

Former team: New York Jets
2018 team: Green Bay Packers

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

RB Dion Lewis

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Tennessee Titans

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G Andrew Norwell

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars

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RB Carlos Hyde

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2018 team: Cleveland Browns

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CB Trumaine Johnson

Former team: Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: New York Jets

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CB Bashaud Breeland

Former team: Washington Redskins
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

OT Nate Solder

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: New York Giants

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

QB Trevor Siemian

Former team: Denver Broncos
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

WR Jordy Nelson

Former team: Green Bay Packers
2018 team: Oakland Raiders

(Photo by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

RB Doug Martin

Former team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 team: Oakland Raiders

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

CB Jason McCourty

Former team: Cleveland Browns
2018 team: New England Patriots

(Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

DT Dontari Poe

Former team: Atlanta Falcons
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

G Josh Sitton

Former team: Chicago Bears
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

C Ryan Jensen

Former team: Baltimore Ravens
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

CB Tyrann Mathieu

Former team: Arizona Cardinals
2018 team: Houston Texans

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

WR/KR/PR Cordarrelle Patterson

Former team: Oakland Raiders
2018 team: New England Patriots

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

G Justin Pugh

Former team: New York Giants
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

C Mike Pouncey

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Los Angeles Chargers

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB Orlando Scandrick

Former team: Dallas Cowboys
2018 team: Washington Redskins

(Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DE Vinny Curry

Former team: Philadelphia Eagles
2018 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

WR Michael Crabtree

Former team: Oakland Raiders
2018 team: Baltimore Ravens

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

DT Sheldon Richardson

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB/S Morgan Burnett

Former team: Green Bay Packers
2018 team: Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

WR Danny Amendola

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

DT Ndamukong Suh

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Los Angeles Rams

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

WR Brandin Cooks

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Los Angeles Rams

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

WR Jordan Matthews

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RB C.J. Anderson

Former team: Denver Broncos
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

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Bell has reportedly wanted to be paid like a top running back and a top wide receiver. The highest-paid running back this season is the Atlanta Falcons' DeVonta Freeman at $8.25 million, while the highest-paid receiver on average is the Steelers' Antonio Brown at $17 million.

With Bell once again on the franchise tag, he could make a dramatic move to help himself and hurt the Steelers. ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Sirius XM on Monday that Bell could hold out for half the season to preserve his body before hitting free agency next season.

Last year, Bell had 321 carries and 85 targets. He has topped 330 total touches in three of the past four seasons. The idea behind sitting for half of the year would be to preserve himself and limit his overall mileage heading into free agency, where running backs often struggle to command huge deals.

Doing so would also come at a significant cost for Bell. According to CBS's Jared Dubin, he would lose almost $7 million in salary if he were to sit out for eight games. It's also unclear how much he would benefit from missing half the season and hitting free agency with 200 fewer overall touches. Bell skipped training camp and preseason last year to hold out for a long-term deal and averaged his fewest yards per carry since his rookie year during the regular season.

It feels as though the situation with Bell and the Steelers may be reaching a breaking point. Bell's agent Adisa Bakari told Schefter on Monday after the two sides couldn't come to an agreement that it may be Bell's last season with the Steelers.

"His intention was to retire as a Steeler," Bakari said. "But now that there's no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le'Veon's last season as a Steeler."

Bakari added, "It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player."

The Steelers in a statement said they will continue negotiations with Bell next offseason, while Bell in a statement said he wants to retire a Steeler and that 2018 will be his best season yet.

Kirk Cousins could offer a path for Bell to follow. Cousins played two years on the franchise tag for the Washington Redskins. He hit free agency this offseason, and the Redskins declined to extend a third, even-more-lucrative franchise tag. Cousins got a three-year, fully guaranteed, $84 million contract.

Bell won't make that type of money, but as an elite running back and strong pass-catcher, if Bell plays and plays well in 2018, perhaps some team will pay him the money he's seeking. 

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