Le'Veon Bell 'likely' leaving Steelers after 2018 season: Three things to know

For the second straight year, Le'Veon Bell is going to have to play the season under the franchise tag after the running back was unable to reach a long-term deal with the Steelers on Monday before the NFL's deadline of 4 p.m. ET. 

The lack of a deal means that Bell will now play the 2018 season under a one-year contract that will pay him roughly $14.5 million. The lack of a new contract might come as a slight surprise to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who actually sounded optimistic over the weekend that a deal would get done

"We want to get a deal done, he wants to get a deal done. Everybody has said that," Tomlin said, via ESPN.com. "Now it's just about the negotiators getting into a room and doing what it is they need to do. I'm excited and hopeful. Hopefully we'll have some exciting news before Monday."

The sticking point in negotiations was likely Bell's asking price, which was reportedly in the neighborhood of $17 million per season. To put that in perspective, no other running back in the NFL currently has a contract anywhere near that number. If Bell had gotten $17 million per year, he would have been making more than double the average annual salary of the next highest-paid running back in the league (Devonta Freeman, $8.25 million per year). By playing under the franchise tag, Bell will still be the highest-paid back in the league at $14.5 million. 

If you're wondering why Bell's demands have been so high, it's because he wants to be paid as a No. 1 running back and a No. 2 wide receiver, which became a huge sticking point, according to Bell's agent Adisa Bakari. 

As Bakari explains it, the Steelers wanted to pay Bell as a running back and running backs just don't get huge contracts anymore. 

"It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player," Bakari said, via ESPN.com. 

With no deal in place, things could get dicey for both sides going forward. 

Here are three things to know about what's next, and none of it's good news for the Steelers. 

1. Bell almost certainly will be skipping training camp

If you're a Steelers fan who owns a Bell jersey, don't bother wearing it to training camp because there's almost a 100 percent chance that Bell won't be there. After being hit with the franchise tag last year, Bell responded by skipping all of training camp and it sounds like that's also his plan for 2018

"I'm going to be in the facility Week 1. It's going to be a rerun of last year. I'm not going to (training) camp. I'm not doing nothing else extra, OTAs, none of that," Bell said in March. 

The bad news there for the Steelers is that Bell might not be in football shape when he shows up to the team facility just days before Pittsburgh's regular-season opener against the Browns. After skipping training camp last year, Bell looked a little rusty through the first three weeks of the season, a span where he scored just one rushing touchdown and averaged just 60 yards per game. To put that in perspective, Bell averaged 92.6 yards per game in the 12 other games he played in last season. 

Of course, Bell can't struggle during the first three games of the season if he doesn't play in them, and that's starting to look like a serious possibility, which takes us to our next point. 

2. Bell could end up sitting out more than half the season

Bell spent part of his offseason threatening to sit out multiple games if he didn't get a long-term deal done with the Steelers, and now that that's a reality, everyone in Pittsburgh will be holding their breath to see what happens. The threats started in January when Bell threatened to retire if the Steelers hit him with the franchise tag. Although he toned that threat down, he made a new one in March when he said that he might not show up to the team facility until Week 10, if he shows up at all. 

"When the end of July comes, wherever we're at ... if I sign, everybody'll be happy, but if not, I guess I gotta play it by ear," Bell told Billboard.com. "If I'll be out till Week 1, if I'll be out till Week 10, or if I'm gonna be out there at all. It depends on how I feel at that time and moment."

Although Bell's threat could be a bluff, ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Monday that he believes it's very "possible" that Bell ends up sitting out at least half the season, so the Steelers should probably take it very seriously. 

Under NFL rules, Bell has until Nov. 13 to sign his franchise deal, which means he could legally sit out for 10 weeks and there's nothing the Steelers could do about it. Of course, if Bell goes that route, it will cost him some serious money. The Steelers running back would lose out on roughly $853,000 per week for any week he sits out, which means he'd have to be willing to lose roughly $8.53 million in salary if he's going to sit out the full 10 weeks. Due to that fact, CBS Sports senior NFL writer Pete Prisco doesn't see Bell skipping any games. 

Also, Bell has promised to have his best season to date, which would be kind of difficult for him to do if he's skipping games. 

If Bell does skip any games, he won't have to worry about what anyone in Pittsburgh thinks of him and that's because he likely won't be there much longer, which brings us to our final point. 

3. Bell almost certainly won't be playing for the Steelers after the 2018 season

The running back market could be a hot one during free agency next year and that's because it will almost certainly include Bell. After the running back was unable to reach a deal with the Steelers, Bell's agent basically admitted that the 26-year-old likely won't be returning to Pittsburgh next year. 

"His intention was to retire as a Steeler. But now that there's no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will Le'Veon's last season as a Steeler," Bakari said, via ESPN.com. 

If the Steelers want to keep Bell, they would have to hit him with the franchise tag for a third straight season, which call for a ridiculous raise. Under NFL rules, a player is entitled to a 44 percent raise when he's tagged for a third time, which means the Steelers would have to pay Bell roughly $20.9 million in 2019. I can tell you right now, that's definitely not going to happen. 

As things stand, fans in Pittsburgh better enjoy Bell's presence this year, because there's almost a 100 percent chance he won't be wearing a Steelers uniform in 2019. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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