Steelers brass is moving forward as if running back Le'Veon Bell will not available for at least the first four-to-six weeks of the season, according to league sources, and have been given no indication the Pro Bowl running back will be reporting anytime soon.
Bell has yet to sign his $14.5 million franchise tag and seems intent on skipping a substantial portion of the season -- and forgoing those game checks -- to mitigate the risk of injury as he pursues a record contract elsewhere in the offseason. The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell for a second straight year, with Bell walking away from an offer that would have paid him $48 million over the first three years.
Neither Bell, nor his agent Adisa Bakari, have given team officials any indication as to when Bell plans to return. Once he failed to show up to practice this week, they began bracing for him to miss multiple games and are operating as if he will skip a considerable amount of time. Some are guessing at least a month, and it would not be a total shock if in fact he waited until Week 10 to return just in time to secure his free-agent status at the end of the season and prevent his contract from tolling. (Texans left tackle Duane Brown took the same approach a year ago, while still under contract, before getting dealt at the trade deadline.)
And while Bell originally indicated to teammates that he planned to report last week, he has since given them no sense as to when he might actually return, league sources said. Some teammates ---- felt betrayed that he opted not to report when originally expected, league sources said, and the subsequent media tour Bakari went on in the aftermath of that, which led to the highly unusual comments coming from the locker room this week.
It now appears as if those teammates will have ample opportunity to continue commenting on Bell's absence. Only the running back himself knows when he will finally sign the offer sheet and get back to work, and Steelers coaches and officials now anticipate that will not be for some time.