The Steelers and Le'Veon Bell have been trying to work out a long-term contract for multiple years now, and it does not look like there is any kind of light at the end of the tunnel. According to GM Kevin Colbert, the team is worried about other "more urgent business" than the Bell deal.
Additionally, Colbert hinted, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, that the Steelers could look to the draft to "change things" from a negotiation standpoint.
"We're not intentionally ignoring that. More urgent business needs to get taken care of," Colbert said in Orlando, Florida, at the league's annual meeting. "We will reassess where that is. He'll reassess where his interests are as well. I anticipate us continuing that process once we get through the free agency period and maybe even through the draft. The draft can change things on both sides."
In theory, the Steelers could utilize a high pick on a running back, perhaps even a first-round selection, to send a message to Bell about their long-term intentions.
The way things have played out shouldn't be a surprise. The Steelers tagged Bell last offseason, gave him a substantial contract offer and the running back chose to play out his tag, hoping to secure money that would completely reset the market. Bell, who is the best receiving back in football, believes he should be paid like both a wide receiver and a running back. The, so .
Bell's, barring a new contract, which implies he is not heavily invested in finding some area of compromise between him and the team. It might just be a situation where both sides are at an impasse.
"He's not under contract [in that case], he doesn't have to show up," Colbert said when asked about Bell missing team activities. "He doesn't sign the deal, then we'll deal with it when it happens. There's nothing to react to."
Technically, Bell isn't under contract until he signs his tender. Don't expect him to sign it quickly. The two sides have until July to work out a new deal. But based on what we saw last year ---- and what we're hearing from the two sides right now, it would not be surprising at all if Bell played the year on the tag again in 2018.
It also seems highly likely the Steelers are aware of this and could end up using a high draft pick on a possible replacement. James Connor was a nice addition last offseason, but it stands to reason the Steelers would need another investment in the position if they anticipate losing Bell next year. It is highly unlikely Pittsburgh uses a third franchise tag on Bell.
There's also the longshot that the draft helps the case for signing Bell. Perhaps the Steelers lock up some positions that they otherwise hadn't secured, allowing them to make moves that free up cap space. In that instance, they could ultimately find more money to pay Bell. The smart money, however, is against a deal happening quickly.