Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell no closer to new deal

Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) carries the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) carries the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

After asserting his dominance as one of the league’s best, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell awaits a big payday — yet things remain muddied.

In a league where ball carriers are still undervalued, it’s rare to find a player at the half back position that possesses a skill set that demands a serious payday. With the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Le’Veon Bell and the rest, up until now, has been history.

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Bell, when healthy and sober, has not only been one of the best backs in the NFL, he’s also proven to be one of the most dangerous players in the entire league.

However, the Michigan State product was slapped with the team’s franchise tag earlier this offseason after coming off a year where he averaged a substantial 4.9 yards per carry on 1268 yards with seven touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, Bell provided 75 receptions and 616 yards to go along with two touchdowns in the air, all in a mere 12 games played.

The team’s franchise tag has the running back set to cash in $12.1 million in 2017, by far the most out of any player at his position.

The goal of a franchise tag isn’t necessarily to have a player play on its sky-high asking price, but rather to buy the team more time to work on a deal with the tagged player. Pittsburgh assigned the franchise tag to Bell on Feb. 27, 2017. With a little under three weeks left until the July 17 deadline set forth by the league to sign tagged players, the prototype back of the future remains without a contract for a future of his own.

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So what’s the likelihood of the Steelers and Bell reaching a long-term deal before the deadline? Well, for the immediate future, it’s not very encouraging. Much to the credit of the organization and Bell himself, there has been an extremely low amount spoken about the actual negotiations and the progress made within them.

Thankfully, people such as Adam Schefter of ESPN get paid very handsomely to scour their sources and gather information to put together. After an offseason where absolutely nothing slipped regarding the Steelers negotiations, Schefter was able to at least provide some insight on Bell’s situation in a tweet:

Let’s look at a timeline of events for Bell that have occurred dating back to the end of the season:

  • Jan. 22, 2017: Le’Veon Bell exits the AFC Championship Game in the first quarter with a groin injury as the Steelers fall to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
  • Feb. 27, 2017: Just over a month after his last action on the field and free agency looming, the Steelers opt to use their franchise tag on Bell, ensuring he stays in black and gold for at least the 2017 season. Optimism for a new contract is high for both sides.
  • March 13, 2017: Bell takes to his Twitter account to post a picture of him in a hospital gown with the words “I appreciate everyone’s thoughts & prayers…surgery went really well, & groin already feels better than it did before! I’ll be stronger!” thus confirming surgery on injured groin.
  • April 17, 2017: Offseason workouts officially begin to kickoff for teams across the league, with the Steelers beginning OTAs and Bell still rehabbing from his surgery. Although not able to practice, many players on the team speak to the media about his absence, with most encouraging Bell to join.
  • June 6, 2017: While absent from OTAs, multiple media outlets report Bell visited the Steelers facility to meet with the team and check on his health status. Groin appeared to in good condition following surgery/rehabbing.
  • June 13, 2017: Mandatory minicamp is underway for Pittsburgh and Bell is not present. Under current NFL rules, a player yet to sign their tag cannot participate in minicamp with their team.
  • June 26, 2017: Bell posts videos of him playing pick-up basketball with friends inside a gym across his social media, showing off his moves and confirming his groin is back to full health.
  • June 27, 2017: Adam Schefter tweets out known information regarding Bell’s situation with the Steelers, citing no foreseeable deal in sight. This is the first of any valid news heard on the contract situation since initial negotiations began.

The timeline is extremely helpful in assessing the current situation for both Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers. On one side of the deal, you have Bell and his camp, who appear to be the more optimistic party. Bell, coming off surgery just a few short months ago, was able to successfully rehab through the spring and even made a trip to the Steelers’ facility. Additionally, he was healthy enough to participate in minicamp, although he wasn’t permitted.

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On the other side sit the Steelers, who through nearly four months of talks have gained little to no traction with their superstar player. Although Bell is now healthy, he has missed both OTAs and minicamp with the possibility of missing training camp hanging over their heads as well.

With just under three weeks left until the July 17 deadline, it’s reasonable to expect talks to escalate as we draw closer to the deadline. Bell wouldn’t be the first or last player to reach a deal this close to needing one done. The Steelers and their fans should remain hopeful when looking at the big picture. The most important part of this deal is both sides want to keep Le’Veon in Pittsburgh for the long-term, an important and sometimes overlooked component in negotiations that can provide a middle ground.

However, many factors still stand in the way. Bell knows what he’s worth and what he brings to the table. His talent is elite and his pay should reflect as such. That’s where the running back holds the high ground in the negotiation room. On the flip side, the Steelers need to answer some questions before they can dish out Bell’s desired money.

Can he stay healthy? Can he stay clean off the field? Questions posed like these are sure to arise in negotiations, and ultimately could cost Le’Veon some money. Also, it’s not a coincidence Pittsburgh drafted a young bull by the name of James Conner in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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At the end of the day, these situations fall in the majority of reaching an agreement before it’s too late. Right now, the Steelers are in the middle of their Super Bowl window. Snatching the best back in football is a step in the right direction to achieving their Lombardi-driven goals. Will a deal get done in time? It’s anybody’s guess. Le’Veon Bell has brought almost nothing but sunny days to Pittsburgh since he first arrived on the scene. For now, however, his future remains cloudy.