Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday that the team prefers to ink Bell to a long-term contract extension this offseason rather than applying the franchise tag on the running back, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. "We never will discount the use of the tag because that's collectively bargained," Colbert said Thursday. "But again, our goal is to have something done on a long-term basis. Colbert's goal aligns with Bell's own wishes, as the soon-to-be 26-year-old said after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs Jan. 14 that he's eager to avoid a repeat of last offseason, when he sat out all of training camp while angling for a long-term deal before ultimately accepting a $12.1 million franchise tag. Though Bell would be projected to earn a slight pay increase if he were tagged again, the high attrition rate for NFL running backs makes it more appealing for him to work out a long-term contract in order to gain more financial security. Bell should have plenty of leverage in negotiations after amassing 1,946 total yards in 15 games last season to boost his average to 128.9 yards per game since the beginning of the 2013 campaign, far and away the top mark among running backs over that span.
Bell and the Steelers have reportedly "made significant progress" on a possible contract extension, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. "We are a lot closer than we were last year," Bell said Wednesday. Fowler adds that the two sides have been talking about a new contract since the Steelers' season ended, with Bell indicating that they are in a "good spot" at this time. While a deal isn't imminent, Bell's tone suggests that this situation is much less likely to drag on than it did last year, when the star running back played under Pittsburgh's franchise tag, after he and the team failed to come to terms on a long-term extension.
Bell said Sunday following the Steelers' 45-42 loss to the Jaguars in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs that he would like to return to Pittsburgh for the 2018 season, but acknowledged the possibility of playing elsewhere, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com reports. "I never want to leave [Pittsburgh]," Bell said. "But obviously, circumstances and things like that. But I definitely don't." The "circumstances" Bell referenced likely relate to his contract status, as the running back relayed Friday that he would be prepared to sit out the 2018 season or contemplate retirement if the Steelers applied the franchise tag to him for the second straight offseason. Expect the Steelers and Bell's representatives to exchange figures on a longer-term contract within the coming months, but if the two sides can't find common ground on a deal before July, another franchise tag would grow more likely. After amassing 11 touchdowns and 1,946 yards from scrimmage across 15 regular-season contests, Bell shined again during the Steelers' lone postseason contest, taking 16 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown and nine receptions for 88 yards and a score in the loss to Jacksonville.
Bell ran for 67 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and caught nine passes on 13 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 45-42 AFC divisional-round loss to Jacksonville. Questionable coaching decisions and a quick 21-point deficit prohibited Bell from contributing much on offense early, as the Jaguars held him to just 24 yards in the first quarter. However, once he got going, the Steelers started putting points on the scoreboard, closing to within one score entering the fourth quarter. It is hard to imagine Pittsburgh not doing everything it can to ensure that Bell, who is an unrestricted free agent, returns in 2018, but he's already stated he could sit out next season if the team opts to use the franchise tag on him once again.
Bell suggested that he's prepared to sit out next season, or possibly even retire, if the Steelers use their franchise tag on him for the second straight year, ESPN.com reports. "I hope it doesn't come to that, but I would definitely consider it," Bell said Thursday. Bell turned in an All-Pro campaign while working under a $12.1 million franchise tag in 2017. The running back logged 321 carries for 1,291 yards and caught 85 passes for 655 yards, to go along with 11 total TDs in 15 games this past season. In any case, Bell's next contract is not something that will be settled in short order, with the Steelers preparing for Sunday's divisional-round playoff game against the Jaguars. It's a contest in which Bell, who was rested in Week 17, will once again head Pittsburgh's ground game, and that's his (and the team's) current focus. Based on Thursday's comments, however, Bell and the Steelers could be looking at some contentious contract negotiations this coming offseason.
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