Fantasy Football Week 1: Laying out every Le'Veon Bell scenario to help you settle your roster

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Fantasy owners are in full-blown panic mode with Le'Veon Bell. The stud running back with an 81.6 percent Fantasy success rate over the past four seasons has yet to report to the Steelers and is apparently no longer satisfied playing under the franchise tag in 2018 for a guaranteed $14.5 million.

Here are the facts that we know:

  • Bell hasn't been with the Steelers since the end of the 2017 season. He was not at training camp.
  • The Steelers have traditionally not negotiated contracts with players who hold out. 
  • Bell's agent Adisa Bakari wouldn't tell SiriusXM NFL Radio when Bell would report back to the team and sign his franchise tender.
  • Bakari also insinuated that if/when Bell returned, the team would lean heavily on him as they have the past two seasons (over 400 touches), theoretically jeopardizing his future by adding wear-and-tear. Bakari told ESPN that Bell is "going to do the things necessary to protect his value long-term."
  • For each game Bell misses, he'll forfeit roughly $850,000 from the franchise tender.
  • Bell can miss as many as 10 games before reporting and still become a free agent in March (although the Steelers could tag him again but at an increasingly high cost). If he holds out past 10 games, he will no longer be eligible for free agency.
  • Bell's teammates are not happy with him. His coach isn't paying any attention to him while he holds out. 
  • Per NFL Network, the Steelers have no plans to rescind the franchise tag and let Bell become an unrestricted free agent this season.  
  • James Conner is the assumed starting tailback.

We do not know Bell's plans on if/when he'll return. We do not know if the Steelers are taking any calls from other teams about a possible trade. We do not know if Bell is already a first-round Fantasy bust.

We do know that the Fantasy values of Bell and Conner are rapidly changing, and we can assume Bell will eventually show up, if only for those last six games to retain his free-agent status for the upcoming offseason.

About the only thing we can do for Fantasy owners is lay out every single scenario so that you're as informed as possible, whether you have Bell or Conner or want to have Bell or Conner.

Bell reports within two weeks

Bell could still report by Sept. 8, sign his tender and collect a check for every game in 2018. It would be a clever move since he's already been ruled out from playing Week 1, thus taking one game's work off of his plate without losing any of his salary. Or he could miss a game or two to make his point, then show up and get back to football. This would be the most effective way for him to come back and keep his big role in the offense.

If this happens: Bell would instantly re-emerge as a No. 1 Fantasy running back since he'd still have (hopefully) 15 games of monster stats. Conner would have a nice game at Cleveland, maybe another one after that depending on Bell's return, and settle back into a backup role.

Odds of this happening: Medium. Bell isn't a moron. Even he knows that if he wants to get paid, he has to play. That's how it worked last season and he earned $12 million. If money was a priority, passing up $850,000 per game doesn't exactly make sense. Very few players in the history of the franchise tag have done this.

Bell reports at midseason

The Steelers have a Week 7 bye. Perhaps Bell takes all of September and early October off and rejoins the team after its first six games. He'd forfeit just over $5 million of his guaranteed salary but would still bring home about $9.5 million. That's not bad for a couple of months of work. You'd assume Bell would go right back to being the Steelers' top running back, but the Steelers coaches could still use Conner if he played well through the first six weeks.

If this happens: Eventually, Bell would regain his elite Fantasy value and relegate Conner to backup status, but it would be a potential pain having to wait for him.

Odds of this happening: Low. While it's a not-so-happy medium between holding out for the season and getting a big pay day, it makes little sense. If Bell was focused on protecting himself from injury, why would he play more games? If Bell was focused on making as much money as possible, why would he forfeit $5 million?

Bell reports at the last possible moment

Right before the Steelers' Week 12 game at Denver would be the absolute latest he could sign his tender and still become a free agent in March. It would dock him about $8.5 million, but he'd still earn over $5 million for his remaining six games. All bets are off as to how quickly the Steelers would rush him back into lineups. Sure, he'd have fresh legs, but ultimately it would depend on the state of their run game by late November and whether or not they'd embrace Bell upon arrival. And would Bell play with maximum effort for six games? The whole point of the holdout is to not get hurt and risk a new, lucrative contract -- he'd risk that by stepping on the field.

If this happens: It's the worst-case scenario for Fantasy owners, obviously. Bell would be a paperweight on Fantasy benches while Conner would have a shot to emerge as a mainstay.

Odds of this happening: Medium. Bell's agent is talking like he won't show until he has to. That would cost him a lot of money, but he might assume he'll get a large long-term contract with a lot of guaranteed dough eventually and thus opt to wait it out.

The Steelers trade Bell

Don't think for a second that the Steelers haven't considered this option. If they're hesitant to give him a big contract but someone else would and give the Steelers a draft pick for the privilege, why not take advantage? This option could happen any time between now and the league's trade deadline Oct. 30 (before Week 9). Bell's departure would seemingly lock him back into a starting job while also giving Conner (assuming he's good) the Steelers' lead role for the foreseeable future. Some other running back on another team would lose Fantasy value pretty quickly with Bell taking his spot.

If this happens: Frankly, this is the best-case scenario for anyone who rosters Bell and Conner because both would become Fantasy starters. It's a neat little possibility to consider if you're trying to acquire the current-Steelers pair. 

Odds of this happening: Medium. There has to be a chance. Some teams might not want Bell because of the selfish attitude he's displayed, but some teams overlook things like that if it means getting a playmaker at a position of need. And despite the running back salary-cap landscape, Bell would indeed be in demand.

Teams with cap space and a need for a long-term, big-time solution at running back: Colts, 49ers, Jets, Raiders, Redskins

What does it all mean?

Simple: The longer Bell's away, the more his Fantasy value suffers. If you're going to trade him, the time to do it is between now and Week 3, though you shouldn't shuffle him off for peanuts. Expect at least one player with third-round value in return. And if you have Bell, getting Conner is a must, even if it means giving up someone with sixth- or seventh-round value to get him.

Naturally, if you have Conner, you want Bell to stay away. Feel free to entertain those trade offers for sixth- or seventh-round values and pick up a guaranteed upgrade for your roster.

Just know this: Bell will play at some point this season. If he doesn't, he will go through this all over again next year without collecting a dime and not getting the chance to make any more money. That makes absolutely no sense.

So who should you sit and start this week? And where does every player stack up? Visit SportsLine now to get Week 1 Fantasy football rankings for every single position, and see which shocking TE is going to finish in the top 10 this week, all from the model that out-performed experts big time last season.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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