After spending the past few months in Miami, it appears that Le'Veon Bell has finally made his way back to Pittsburgh. However, the drama between Bell and the Steelers isn't quite over yet, and that's because he still hasn't reported to the team.
We know Bell's in Pittsburgh because he was spotted on Tuesday night at a local LA Fitness. An eagle-eyed customer at the gym saw Bell playing basketball and decided to take a picture, and then obviously, he posted that picture to social media.
Someone else at the gym also saw Bell and managed to take a quick photo.
Although there was some question about whether or not the pictures actually showed Bell (they are a little blurry and/or theoretically could be old), that was all cleared up on Wednesday when an LA Fitness manager confirmed to ESPN.com that Bell was at the gym. The gym photos came just one day after Bell started an internet firestorm when he that most took as a message that he was finally going to report to the Steelers.
It's a good thing Bell is in Pittsburgh, because if he wants to play this year, he has to show up soon. To be eligible to play in the NFL in 2018, he has to report to the team by 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 13, which is less than one week away. After reporting, Bell would then sign his franchise tender. Although the franchise tag would have paid him $14.55 million this season, he'll only get roughly $5.9 million of that after missing the first 10 weeks of the season.
The one odd thing about these latest pictures of Bell is that he was spotted playing basketball. When you consider the fact that his main reason for not signing the franchise tag this year was because he didn't want to be overused and risk injury, it literally makes zero sense to walk out on a basketball court and risk injury when you're not under contract with anyone. It's just another odd decision in a series of odd decisions that Bell has been making this year.
Also, one thing that's not clear is how Bell will be received by everyone in the Steelers locker room when he eventually reports (Since he's in Pittsburgh, we're going to assume he shows up at some point). Bell's popularity has tumbled in Pittsburgh over the past few weeks. Mike Tomlin seemed pretty tired of talking about the situation when he was asked about Bell before the Steelers' 23-16 win over the Ravens on Sunday.
"We haven't spent a lot of time focused on [Bell being gone] because it's not within our control. Those decisions are Le'Veon's," Tomlin said, via ESPN.com. "We need volunteers, not hostages, so we're focused on the guys who are here and working and James [Conner] is definitely in that mix."
Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro also seemed pretty tired of talking about the situation.
"Honestly, no one cares anymore," DeCastro said on Sunday, via NFL.com. "Why would I? I don't want to waste the energy. I have to block some of the best players on the best defense in the world. Do you think I'm going to worry about a guy who's not here?"
Oh, and there's also the fact that Bell's replacement has been running wild over the NFL. In nine games this season, James Conner has rushed for 706 yards, which ranks first in the AFC and second in the NFL. Also, Conner is one of just three players in the NFL this season who has at least 500 rushing yards and 375 receiving yards. Conner is also doing things that Bell has never done.
Through eight games this season, Conner has produced 1,085 total yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. All three of those numbers are better than what Bell did through eight games last season, when he produced 979 total yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Not to mention, Bell will be making more money each game ($855,000) then Conner will make the entire season ($790,000). Basically, the Steelers have every reason to stick with Conner.
If, for some reason, Bell doesn't report to the Steelers, he'll be very unlikely to get another franchise tag. According to NFL.com, if Bell gets hit with the franchise tag in 2019, it will count as his third tag whether he plays this season or not. With a third franchise tag, that means Bell would be paid the amount of the highest tag, which would be the quarterback tag. In that case, any team that franchise tagged him would owe him more than $25 million.