There will be an arbitration case brewing between the NFL and NFL Players Association regarding Le'Veon Bell's 2019 salary in the event the transition tag is placed on him, whether by the Steelers or any other NFL team, multiple sources said.
Bell is currently not playing for the Steelers, and has yet to sign his $14.5M franchise tag for the 2018 season, one that would pay him roughly $850,000 per week over 17 weeks. He said earlier last week that the Steelers told him they would place the transition tag on him in 2019, and while the franchise disputes the veracity of that statement, it is possible that Pittsburgh, or any team that acquires him, would want to utilize that mechanism next year.
That would allow Bell to negotiate freely with any NFL team, giving the Steelers the right to match any offer sheet. The amount of the 2019 tag would be reflected by "120 percent" of Bell's 2018 salary, per the collective bargaining agreement. However, league sources indicated that the Steelers – or any other NFL team for that matter – would determine that salary means the actual amount of money Bell earned in 2018, and not simply the amount of the franchise tag had he signed it before the season began. Sources within the NFLPA conceded that it is something the union has at least given some thought to, and while no final decisions have been made, the NFLPA would likely contend that Bell should be compensated off of the $14.5M figure, rather than whatever he ends up actually taking home this season when he does sign the tag and resume playing football.
Such an arbitration would likely take place prior to the start of free agency in March, if in fact Bell does receive the transition tag from whichever team he plays for this season. In the past there have been hearings over whether or not a pass-catching tight end like Jimmy Graham should be tagged as a tight end or receiver, and in this case both sides would request an expedited decision from system arbitrator Stephen Burbank to resolve the issue before Bell was in position to begin fielding offers from other teams. The difference between those two figures could be quite wide, for instance, with Bell contending a $17.4M salary for 2019, while if, for instance, he returned in Week 10 (the latest point at which he could still play football in 2018), the NFL would contend he should be transitioned at just $8.2M, a little more than half of his 2018 franchise tag value.