Did Le'Veon Bell sign his franchise tag? Steelers RB doesn't report, is ineligible to play in 2018

And with that, the Le'Veon Bell saga has reached a conclusion lacking fireworks, grand arrivals, or last-minute surprises. 

On Tuesday, the 4 p.m. ET deadline for Bell to report and sign his franchise tag with the Steelers came and went, which means Bell definitely won't play football this season and almost definitely won't play for the Steelers ever again. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported 15 minutes before the deadline that Bell wouldn't be showing up. Sure enough, he didn't, which Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert confirmed after the deadline passed.

Bell is ineligible to play football this year.

"So be it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said a couple hours before the deadline, via NFL.com.

The saga really began all the way back in the spring of 2017, when the Steelers hit Bell with the franchise tag. Bell held out the entire summer as the two sides failed to agree to an extension. But he showed up in September and proceeded to total 1,946 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage over the course of the season. 

Once again, the Steelers franchise-tagged Bell after the season. Once again, the player and team failed to agree to a long-term deal. Once again, Bell held out. But this time, Bell didn't show up in September. As the trade deadline approached, trade rumors swirled, but a deal never materialized. In his absence, second-year running back James Conner has thrived, totaling 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage in nine games as the Steelers have emerged as frontrunners in the AFC North. He's been good enough to earn Bell's approval. Just a few hours before the deadline, Bell was spotted gifting a Pro Bowl vote to Conner.

For weeks now, we've had this day on the calendar circled, because it was the last day Bell could show up to make himself eligible to both play this year and collect what's left of his $14.5 million salary under the tag. By not showing up, Bell has officially walked away from all of that money. The flip side is that Bell won't enter free agency with an injury. He'll be healthy, 27 years old, and ready to sign the biggest contract of his career. And make no mistake about it, a team will absolutely pay Bell a ton of money. It might not be the gigantic contract he is dreaming of, but Bell is too good of a player to not get a long-term, lucrative contract.

The Steelers won't franchise tag him again, because a third tag would cost more than $25 million. They could always transition tag him, but it still seems unlikely they'd match whatever offer Bells gets on the open market. Either way, Bell will be elsewhere in 2019 barring something extraordinarily unexpected.

"I understand that business is an element of the game of football," Tomlin said. "And the elements of the game, relationships within the game, football-related relationships that we all hold near and dear and understand. And then, football at this level, there's also a business element. Even when we don't understand it, we're sensitive to it. So we're not shocked when things happen from a business standpoint."

And so, we appear to be at the end of Bell's career in Pittsburgh. He'll walk away with 7,996 yards and 42 touchdowns in five seasons in addition to 515 yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games.

Bell's saga with the Steelers is over. But it won't be long until his free agency saga begins. 

It's not often players of Bell's caliber hit the open market, but that will happen this offseason.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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