Steelers' Le'Veon Bell could reportedly sit out half the year without a long-term deal

As of this writing, we are mere hours away from the deadline by which the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell have to come to an agreement on a long-term contract, or else Bell has to play out the season on the franchise tag. Bell has been angling for a monster deal for over a year now, and the talks are expected to come down to the wire, just as they did a year ago. 

CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported on Monday that talks are still ongoing, and that they have been amicable and productive. As JLC noted, however, that was also the case at this time last year. 

The Steelers are making what they believe is every effort to do just that for Bell, and remain willing to pay him more than any running back has made in this league for quite some time. But then again, as noted, that's the same mindset they had a year ago when the Pro Bowler backed out just before the deadline and opted not to sign the contract. Talks have remained amicable and productive, I'm told, and there is certainly some hope of getting a deal done by 4 p.m. ET, but also trepidation as well that the sides might not be able to bridge their gaps.

In the past Bell had addressed the ongoing situation publicly, most often through his rap lyrics, suggesting he deserved a deal worth $16-$17M per season, and he has not shied away from his intent to set a new benchmark in terms of running-back compensation and best Adrian Peterson's deal with Minnesota from what must now be considered a bygone time. The Steelers extended themselves far beyond what other front offices thought they would offer to Bell a year ago, and far beyond their own internal expectations at the start of the process, so it is impossible to predict exactly how the final hours of these talks will go this time around.

In the event the two sides cannot reach an agreement, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Bell is considering sitting out for as much as half of the 2018 season in order to save his body from the wear and tear of another 400-touch season. (Bell led the NFL with 321 carries last season, and added an NFL running back-high 85 catches as well.) 

Bell sitting out half the season would obviously come as a detriment to the Steelers. According to projections from SportsLine's Stephen Oh, it would cost them nearly a full win and reduce the chances that they make the playoffs by 15 percentage points. 

PITTSBURGH

WINS

WIN%

WIN DIV

PLAYOFF%

AFC%

SB%

Current Forecast

9.6

60.0%

61.3%

72.3%

13.4%

7.3%

If Bell Sits 8 Games

8.9

55.6%

35.5%

57.3%

9.9%

5.3%

IMPACT

-0.7

-4.4%

-25.8%

-15.0%

-3.5%

-2.0%

More than the Steelers' fortunes, it would also affect Bell's wallet. He would be sacrificing $909,000 per game, based on his franchise-tag salary of $14,544,000 for the 2018 season. Sitting out half the year would thus cost him $7,272,000. That's a whole lot of money to sacrifice to keep an additional 200 touches off Bell's odometer, especially when you consider what running backs have been going for on the open market. 

Bell will be 27 years old next offseason and any deal he signs is going to cover the decline phase of his NFL career, whether he touches the ball 400 times in 2018 or four times. Is there a massive difference between hitting free-agency at age 27 with 1,750-ish career touches and 1,950-ish career touches? Who knows. Minimizing the impact on Bell's body is a worthy endeavor, of course, and he shouldn't be forced to play for less money than he feels he's worth. But the likelihood of his increasing the total salary he'll command next offseason by as much or more than what he'd lose by sitting out seems fairly low. 

It's a tricky situation that Bell has to deal with, here. The Steelers could alleviate the choice for him by matching his price on a long-term contract, but any deal that pays Bell for the way he produces right now is likely to come back to bite the team in the future. That's just the world we live in these days when it comes to star-caliber running backs. For that reason, a return to Pittsburgh on the franchise tag still seems like the most likely result. Whether he plays the full season, half a season, or somewhere in between is another matter. 

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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