Once again, Le'Veon Bell has been tagged.
As first reported by The Monday Morning Quarterback's Albert Breer and later confirmed by the team, the Steelers hit Bell with the franchise tag for a second consecutive offseason. The cost of that franchise tag? $14.5 million, which is the highest salary of Bell's career, but it isn't what he's looking for.
Bell, arguably the game's most complete running back, wants to be paid a lot of money over a long period of time. Last year, he turned down an offer that would've paid him $42 million over the first three seasons in favor of playing under the franchise tag. So far this offseason, .
But the Steelers won't just let one of their most important players walk away in free agency. They'll either make him play under the limited security of the franchise tag or perhaps they'll be able to reach a long-term agreement before the mid-July deadline. But by tagging him, the Steelers ensured the Bell isn't leaving Pittsburgh for free. That's why this move shouldn't come as a surprise.
"We're not coming to a number we both agree on -- they are too low, or I guess they feel I'm too high," Bell told ESPN on Monday. "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."
The bad news for the Steelers is that Bell has already
"I just have to decide if I'm going to play when the time comes," Bell said.
The good news is that the two sides are closer than they were a year ago.
"Earlier I said I felt we would get one done, and this year we are a lot closer than last year," Bell said. "In good spirit, I feel we can get something done. But unless something drastic changes, it won't be [this week]."
And Bell has said he prefers to remain in Pittsburgh for the duration of his career.
Pittsburgh: the city that took in a 21-year old kid from small-town Ohio, the city I battled thru adversity in, the city that I became a man in. I love everything about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt! #26Forever pic.twitter.com/mhs2ikpK71— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) March 6, 2018
But that doesn't mean they're close. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports that the two sides are still far apart.
Continues to look like the inevitable is coming with another tag for Le'Veon Bell. Sides aren't close. His expectations remain beyond market— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 6, 2018
Since entering the league in 2013 as a second-round pick, Bell has racked up 7,996 yards and 42 touchdowns from scrimmage, which rank second and sixth in that time span, respectively, even though he's missed 18 games in that span. He's capable of serving as a workhorse (he carried the ball a career-high 321 times last year) while being the second-best receiver on the Steelers' offense (he caught a career-high 85 passes last year). Besides Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, he's probably the Steelers' most important player. There's an argument to be made he's more important than Brown given his versatility, and he's a better overall player than Big Ben.
That's why the Steelers can't just let him go for free in free agency. But that's also why Bell wants more than a one-year deal. In some alternate reality, the Steelers could decide to trade Bell if/when he signs his franchise tender. We've got you covered for that possibility
Just don't expect it to happen. This seemingly unending game of tag will likely end with Bell playing for the Steelers in 2018. They're a Super Bowl contender and they'll need their All-Universe playmaker to take down the Patriots in the AFC. Meanwhile, Bell likely won't sit out the season and pass up the chance to earn $14.5 million.