Le'Veon Bell explains why he has taken up boxing this offseason while he seeks contract

Just like a year ago, Le'Veon Bell has been a no-show at offseason workouts. The Steelers' running back -- one of the most dynamic players in the NFL -- is looking for a long-term deal and as long as he and the team remain at odds, Bell plans to work out on his own and show up just before the start of the regular season.

In the meantime, Bell, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, has taken up boxing to help keep him in shape and to also reduce the stress on his legs from a more traditional offseason football workout.

"I try to find ways to be healthier," Bell told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler recently. "I want my body to be in great shape so as the season comes closer you'll start seeing that form to take shape. [Boxing] is just to help with my cardio and my stamina. It's a little different than football, and I try to stay off my joints in the offseason as much as possible, still get cardio. Instead of cutting and doing a lot of drills, I've been doing a lot of boxing training."

As a running back, Bell plays one of football's most fungible positions. And at 26, he's at the age when backs start to see their skills diminish. But the former Michigan State star is planning for a long career and in his mind, longevity is both physical and mental.

"As long as I take care of my body and stay physically fit and I'm able to run and cut, make sure my joints are intact and I'm not always sore, my mental's only going to get better and I'll grow as a football player, whether I'm 30, 32, whatever it is," he said. "I feel I'm one of those guys that doesn't necessarily depend on athletic ability. I use my mind, I set up blocks, I wait for things to open, I time up things, I use a lot of skill catching the ball. I think that stuff is my mind. It's not me outrunning somebody. That may happen or I may run somebody over but that's not what I depend on. I depend on my mind. All the other stuff comes after that."

Bell will be in Pittsburgh in 2018 -- as soon as he signs the franchise tender that will pay him $14.5 million next season -- but beyond that, who knows.

He is reportedly looking for a deal that pays him closer to $17 million annually, which is Antonio Brown money. Running backs, even those as versatile as Bell, don't command those types of contracts. And that's why Bell, for the second-straight offseason, is at home, where he plans to stay right up until the start of the season -- unless he and the Steelers can reach an agreement on a new long-term deal.

But it's hard to imagine the Steelers paying Bell anything north of $14.5 million, especially after the team reportedly offered him a multi-year deal last offseason that averaged $12 million annually only to have Bell turn it down.

As CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote earlier this month: "The bottom line with the Steelers is that, except for quarterbacks, they aren't going to guarantee massive amounts at signing and spread those guarantees three or more years out. And while one could clearly make the argument that Bell is just as important to this offensive juggernaut as Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown, that receiver stigma, and Bell's off-field issues, in the end, will preclude him from securing a landmark pact from the Steelers by the July 16 deadline."

Put another way: This could be the final season Bell spends in Pittsburgh. Then the question becomes: Will one of the other 31 teams be willing to pay Bell, who'll be 27 in February, what he thinks he's worth?

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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