Steelers' Le'Veon Bell: You won't see me until Week 1 unless I get a new contract
The Steelers running back could hold out for a second straight year
The Steelers used the franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell this week, and now the two sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal. Otherwise, the running back will make $14.5 million in 2018 and become a free agent after the season.
If this all sounds familiar, it's because this is what happened a year ago -- Bell was franchised, the two sides couldn't come to terms on a contract, and the running back didn't report to the team until just before the regular season. In the weeks leading up to Bell getting tagged for the second time, he threatened to sit out and possibly retire if he didn't get a multi-year deal. This, of course, is a concern for Steelers fans -- and more importantly, the Steelers -- though on Wednesday Bell sought to clear up any confusion via Instagram (naturally).
"Honestly, no, I'm not going to sit out," Bell said during a live chat, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Joe Rutter. "I'm going to be in the facility Week 1. It's going to be a rerun of last year. I'm not going to (training) camp. I'm not doing nothing else extra, OTAs, none of that.
"I'm going to strictly go to what I have to go to. I want to win every game. I want to have the best statistical career that I possibly can, so I want to play in every game that I can possibly play."
The remarks come a day after Bell, in an interview with Billboard.com, suggested that he might sit out until Week 10, when he'd have to show up and sign his franchise tender to guarantee he could become a free agent next offseason. The running back expounded on that too.
"Me saying I was going to sit out was more emotional at the time," he said. "When I was asked the question [during the Billboard.com interview], that's the way I felt at the time. I might come in Week 1. I might come in Week 4. I don't know what week I'm going to come in, but I'm going to play this year, though. I'm going to play. I just don't know when I'm going to play."
The good news is that the Steelers and Bell have made progress from last offseason.
"Earlier I said I felt we would get one done, and this year we are a lot closer than last year," Bell told ESPN.com on Monday. "In good spirit, I feel we can get something done. ...
"We're not coming to a number we both agree on -- they are too low, or I guess they feel I'm too high," he continued. "I'm playing for strictly my value to the team. That's what I'm asking. I don't think I should settle for anything less than what I'm valued at."
And that's the thing: What is Bell's value? He's the NFL's most dynamic and versatile runner, and under the franchise tag, he'll be the league's highest paid back by $6.25 million. There's no way the Steelers pay him $14.5 million annually, which would be a 75 percent increase over the $8.25 million average salary Devonta Freeman, the next closest back, earns.
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