The Steelers are in a funny little game of chicken with their superstar running back Le'Veon Bell. for the second year in a row and, just like last year, sounds like he isn't going to just show up as if he was under contract.
GM Kevin Colbert said at the owners' meetings, certainly through free agency and probably through the draft. Even if Colbert didn't expressly say it, there is an idea here that the Steelers could draft a running back early as a potential replacement for Bell.
Guice is an underrated prospect in this draft class, with most of the attention being paid to Saquon Barkley out of Penn State. After seeing Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette help transform their respective offenses after being taken in the top 10 the last three years, it's hard to imagine Barkley going outside the top five. Certainly he'll be a top-10 pick.
But this is a deep and dynamic running back draft class. Guice and Ronald Jones out of LSU are both potential first-round picks, certainly guys with first-round talent. Guice didn't catch many passes at LSU, but he's dynamic enough while also being capable of serving as a punishing workhorse. When Fournette got hurt he stepped in for the Tigers and looked dominant.
For the Steelers, it's tough to just assume Bell is going to be fully functional for the 2018 season. He has said without a new contract, and it's entirely possible that Bell holds out until Week 10 to try and max out his leverage while still accruing a season.
, which they extended last year, in order to try and blow the top off the running back market. Good luck with that. Bell is a tremendous player, but getting the value he believes he's worth is going to be extremely difficult.
As such, and without the ability to really retain Bell past the 2018 season, the Steelers have to assume that the future will not feature Bell in the backfield for them. Which means they need to do their due diligence on the players in this draft class. Remember that Bell, back in 2013, was a second-round pick for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are not afraid to pull the trigger on a running back early if the talent warrants the selection.
So maybe Colbert did not expressly say "the draft could serve to give us leverage against Bell" when he met with reporters. That's fine. But there is definitely an opportunity to increase the Steelers' leverage in contract talks by both meeting with running back prospects and by drafting a running back early.
At the very least, Pittsburgh has to plan accordingly for Bell possibly leaving. Don't be surprised when they use an early-ish round pick on a running back.