Saturday's deadline for Bell to report has come without Bell showing up to the team's facilities. As a result, he will not travel with the team to Clevelend. His absence will reportedly cost him his Week 1 game check. Rookie James Connor is set to take on starting running back responsibilities as a result.
With Thursday's practice in the books, Bell's window to prepare for Week 1 action seems almost entirely closed. While his situation could play out in a variety of ways, the fact that he's not yet with the team opens the door for James Conner to draw the start at running back this weekend. As Ian Rapoport of NFL Network notes, a Saturday arrival on Bell's part would allow him to receive his Week 1 game check, but so far there's no word as to when the running back plans to re-join the team.
Bell (contract dispute) could wait until Nov. 13 to sign his franchise tender and still accrue a full year of service time, which would allow him to hit free agency next March, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports.
As has been the case throughout the summer, Bell remained absent from practice Thursday, making it increasingly likely that he'll be inactive when the team begins its season Sunday in Cleveland. How long Bell intends to continue his holdout remains unknown, but his agent, Adisa Bakari, suggested his client might not be keen on reporting to the team anytime soon. While Bell will forfeit $853,000 for each week he misses, it may be a price the running back is willing to pay to preserve his long-term health heading into next spring, when he projects to have a robust market as a free agent. The Steelers reportedly have no plans to rescind Bell's franchise tag and are reluctant to trade him, and since a new contract can't be negotiated at this point either, it appears the team has little choice but to wait out the 26-year-old. So long as Bell's status remains in limbo, James Conner is expected to lead the Pittsburgh backfield.
Coach Mike Tomlin indicated Tuesday that he hasn't thought about a cutoff day that might determine Bell's Week 1 availability, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports. "When he gets here, that's when we will start quantifying all Le'Veon Bell-related things, his overall readiness, the amount of time we have between his arrival and the next competition, (ect.)," Tomlin noted.
Of course, Wednesday does profile as a key day for the team's Week 1 preparation, so if Bell hasn't reported yet, or looks like he needs added time to get up to speed, then the team has confidence in second-year pro James Conner. In any case, it seems wise to temper expectations for Bell (assuming he re-joins the team in short order) with regard to Sunday's season opener against the Browns. Even if the Steelers incorporate him into their game plan for the contest, Conner could still see a share of the team's backfield work.
Coach Mike Tomlin indicated that he hasn't spoken with Bell this week, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Bell has not yet signed his franchise tender with the Steelers, which is less-than-optimal with regard to his Week 1 status, but if he does so by Wednesday, then he can commence preparations for Sunday's season opener against the Browns. If Bell's absence lingers, James Conner would be in line for the start at running back for Pittsburgh this weekend.
|3||9/24/18||@ TB||8:15 pm|
|6||10/14/18||@ CIN||1:00 pm|
|Bye: Week 7|
|9||11/4/18||@ BAL||1:00 pm|
|11||11/18/18||@ JAC||8:20 pm|
|12||11/25/18||@ DEN||4:25 pm|
|14||12/9/18||@ OAK||8:20 pm|
|16||12/23/18||@ NO||4:25 pm|
|Year||Team||G||Fum||Lost||Fum Forced||Own Rec||Opp Rec||Yds||Tot Rec||TD|