Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said the sides are "a lot closer" to an agreement on a long-term contract extension than they were last year, when he waited until six days before the start of the regular season to sign the franchise-tag tender.
"I don't want to have the replications of what happened last year," he said. "But if that came down to that, obviously I got to do what I got to do. Take my stand and protect myself. I don't want to have to do that. I want to go to camp and play for the Steelers long term."
Steelers president Art Rooney II was asked about an extension for Bell in February and, while he expressed a desire to get a deal done, wouldn't fully commitment to a new contract before the 2018 season, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rooney said:
"Well, every year is a new challenge. It's like a jigsaw puzzle with the salary cap. We're lucky to have three players like Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. They're the kind of players that command a large salary. We're going to do our best to make it work. That's what you want—the best players on your team."
Bell is set to make $14.5 million under the tag during the upcoming campaign if a deal isn't reached, according to Spotrac. He elaborated on the NFL Network about the talks:
"Obviously, the people in the organization try to do what's best for them and I'm trying to do what's best for me. We're working on it. We're a lot closer than we were last year at this time. That's what I'm happy about. None of that matters if we don't get it done. Hopefully we'll try to get something done. That's what I'm looking forward to. I got confidence we'll get it done. I want to do it."
The 26-year-old Ohio native enjoyed a strong 2017 campaign despite missing training camp and the preseason. He racked up 1,946 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 15 games.
It's unclear whether Bell will be on the field when Pittsburgh opens the preseason against the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 9. It'd be a surprise if he wasn't on the field Sept. 9 when the Steelers kick off the regular season at Cleveland.