The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal Monday, and the running back’s agent said the 2018 season will "likely" be his client's last in black and yellow.
"His intention was to retire as a Steeler," Adisa Bakari said, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. "But now that there's no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will [be] Le'Veon's last season as a Steeler. ... It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player."
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert also released a statement, explaining that the two sides "worked very hard to find common ground" and pointing out the team will look to sign Bell to a deal next offseason after he plays under the exclusive franchise tag designation in 2018:
Bell also released a statement on his Twitter page that echoed some of what his agent and the team said while promising Pittsburgh fans the 2018 campaign will be a special one: "to all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler...both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times...to the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let youu down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date..."
The inability for Bell’s side and the Steelers to reach a deal before Monday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline means the running back will play under the franchise tag for the second consecutive season.
Bakari's comment that the team wanted to pay the position and not the individual player stands out considering Bell does much more than just run the ball out of the backfield. He was second on the Steelers with 85 catches and third with 655 receiving yards in 2017, proving to be a versatile playmaker who was a threat to opposing defenses on every down.
Just for good measure, he added 1,291 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns and made his third career Pro Bowl.
It is hard to argue against Bell's desire to be paid based on his playmaking abilities and not just his position, although Jeremy Fowler of ESPN pointed out the Steelers weren't looking to "overinflate a position that hasn't landed a long-term deal worth more than $10 million per year since Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson in 2011."
According to Fowler, Bell preferred a long-term contract worth at least $14.5 million annually, which is the amount on his 2018 tag number. Pittsburgh, in turn, made two contract offers starting around $13.3 million per year.
Bell is just 26 years old, and he figures to be a legitimate candidate for position-changing money again next offseason if he produces like he did during the 2017 season.