The Steelers made every effort to secure running back Le'Veon Bell prior to the season, to no avail, and while they aim to explore that option again in 2018, the situation is pointing to another franchise tag.
Bell, who has had an up-and-down season thus far after sitting out all of the offseason on the franchise tag, remains a central cog on the team, and with Ben Roethlisberger aging and the passing game struggling, that remains the case into the future. However, Bell has been seeking a deal worth an absurd $15M a year -- and league sources said the Steelers won't go that high, and that's unlikely to change.
Pittsburgh's final offer to Bell last July before the deadline to sign the franchise tag was worth $30M over the first two years alone, sources said, and actually is for more money than Bell would earn if tagged again in 2018. While less than ideal -- considering Bell would be eligible for free agency again in 2019 -- having to franchise Bell twice in a row would cost the Steelers $14.54M next season and a total of $26.66M over two years.
That's a lot of money for a running back, to be sure, but it's also considerably less than the $30M he would have earned had he signed the long-term extension. The Steelers were willing to pay Bell a per-year average of $13M on that offer -- essentially what would be the case on successive tags. Surely, you would prefer to spend that kind of money on a contract that binds the player to the team for the duration of his prime, but it's still more than viable in this instance. And paying Bell $14.5M for one season would bolster his claim he is worth $15M per year, one could argue, though the tepid running back market in recent years has to be a factor as well.
Bell does not turn 26 until February, but given his history of injury and suspension, there are natural concerns about guaranteeing him huge sums of money in multiple years of the contract. Going year-to-year isn't perfect for the team or player, but then again Roethlisberger was already talking retirement last offseason and this offense might have little choice but to be in wait-and-see mode with some key parts moving forward.