Report: Le'Veon Bell Receives Franchise Tag from Steelers for 2nd Straight Year

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2018

FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) plays in an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger are among a Pro Bowl high of eight Pittsburgh Steelers to make the all-star game. Twenty-four of the 86 Pro Bowl selections announced Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 are newcomers. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers have reportedly placed the franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the news Tuesday.

According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the one-year deal will be worth $14.54 million in 2018.

Bell played the 2017 campaign under a one-year franchise tender worth $12.1 million. He opted against signing it until just before the start of the regular season, and as a result, he skipped the entirety of training camp and the preseason.

In explaining his decision to wait so long to sign the deal, Bell sounded like he had his eye on the future, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"I wanted to make sure I was fresh for the season. I didn't want to jeopardize myself and get hurt in camp. I understand I'm on a one-year deal, so I have to prepare and play football. I didn't want to get hurt in camp. In my rookie camp, I got hurt. I didn't want to deal with that. I'm going to be ready for Game 1, the games that count."

Bell's reasoning is understandable. He's one of the best running backs in the NFL and didn't need training camp or the preseason to establish his role in the Steelers offense. In addition, only DeMarco Murray had more touches in a single season (449) between 2013 and 2016 than Bell (373), who was tied for second with David Johnson, according to Pro Football Reference.

By giving Bell the one-year tender, the Steelers essentially kicked the can down the road and made the decision about his next contract even harder.

Bell added to the difficulty by putting together another Pro Bowl season. He ran for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns.

Murray provided the worst-case scenario in terms of free-agent running backs. After leading the league in rushing in 2014, he signed a five-year, $42 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. One disappointing season later, the Eagles dealt Murray to the Tennessee Titans in what was largely a salary dump.

Given Bell's heavy workload, it wouldn't be surprising if his peak doesn't last as long as one would expect based on his past production.

As a result, the Steelers' decision to use the franchise tag comes as expected. Although Bell is the highest-paid running back in the league, per Spotrac, Pittsburgh is minimizing as much risk as possible. If Bell has a poor 2018, then the team can easily go in a different direction. Meanwhile, the opportunity to ink him to an extension will still be on the table if he has another Pro Bowl-caliber season.

When he decided to turn down the team's final offer ahead of the 2017 deadline in July, Bell made it clear he wasn't just looking at his current situation.

"The running back market definitely took a hit, and I can't be the guy who continues to let it take a hit," he said, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "We do everything: We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn't where it needs to be. I'm taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable."

It appears Bell will have to continue waiting to reset the free-agent market for the NFL's top running backs.


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