Steelers officials went into the bye this weekend still without receiving any formal word from running back Le'Veon Bell or his agent about if or when the former All Pro would report to the team. Bell still has yet to sign his franchise tag, and while there have been reports of him showing up in Week 7 or Week 8, the team still has no clarity, sources said.
As previously reported, several Steelers execs believe it's more likely that Bell waits until Week 9, after the trade deadline, to sign the contract tender, which is worth $850,000 per week. Had Bell reported during the bye, the team would have not paid him for his services that week, sources said, and the Steelers will utilize a two-week roster exemption on him when he does report. The sides would have to negotiate how much of his salary the running back earns during that time, if it comes to that.
Ideally, the Steelers would like to trade Bell, though his prolonged absence and actions and recent comments have not helped his trade value at all. The Eagles remain the most obvious potential trade partner, but sources said those conversations have not advanced from the early inquiries weeks ago. Ownership has concerns that Bell's presence could be a negative for the team, which is rolling now behind young back James Conner.
The Steelers could still agree to terms on a trade of Bell without him having signed his franchise tag, sources said, and would grant their trade partner permission to speak to Bell at that time in order to try to facilitate him signing the tag to complete the transaction. If Bell were to block a hypothetical trade by not signing, it would only serve to further decrease his odds of getting anywhere close to the kind of money he will be seeking on the free-agent market in 2019 (around $17M a year with heavy guarantees).
The very limited trade interest in him thus far should already be an indication of what is potentially to come, and if Bell does return to Pittsburgh he could be stuck behind Conner for a while. Given that half the season is nearly over, each week will be huge for Bell to re-establish his worth.