The Steelers have until July 16 to sign Bell to a long-term contract, or else he'll play under the franchise tag for a second straight year. He recently said he doesn't intend to miss any games even if a deal isn't worked out, adding that he'd likely follow his path from last year when he waited until the preseason was over to report to the team. Bell disappointed in September and ultimately finished with what was easily his lowest yards per carry mark (4.0) since his rookie campaign, but he made it up to fantasy owners by piling up 321 carries, 85 receptions, 1,946 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games. A long-term contract likely would lower Bell's 2018 cap number ($14.54 million) by quite a bit, giving the Steelers added flexibility for the upcoming season. The team already seems to be preparing for the possibility this will Bell's last year in Pittsburgh, showing serious interest in potential first-round pick Derrius Guice, according to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
The Steelers tagged Bell Tuesday, and the two parties now have until July 16 to work out an extension. In the event that a deal isn't worked out within that time frame, the running back noted that he's prepared to sit out training camp and other team activities, but confirmed his intention to make himself available to the Steelers in advance of Week 1 of the regular season. As Bell points out, such a scenario would be a "rerun of last year," in which the running back signed his franchise tender and reported to Pittsburgh just in time to be available for the season opener. With no reported injury concerns coming out of Pittsburgh's divisional-round loss to the Jaguars in January, Bell is poised to approach the 2018 campaign healthy and in a Steelers jersey, though just how much preseason preparation he'll have with his teammates remains to be seen.
Bell received the franchise tag prior to Tuesday's 4:00 p.m. EST deadline, Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reports.
The Steelers were never going to let Bell test the open market and still haven't been able to work out a long-term agreement. The two sides presumably will continue negotiations, with Bell eventually expected to stage a lengthy holdout if he's forced to play under the franchise tag for a second straight year. The tag is worth approximately $14.5 million, but the Steelers likely would reduce Bell's 2018 cap figure if they were to hammer out a multi-year deal before the July 16 deadline.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he hopes to sign Bell to an extension before the deadline for applying the franchise tag at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday. Pittsburgh can still use the tag and continue negotiating after that point, but it's a scenario both sides presumably hope to avoid. Bell is targeting a contract that would comfortably make him the NFL's highest-paid running back in terms of average annual value, though a $14.5 million franchise tag technically would accomplish the same goal, sans the long-term security.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday that the team prefers to ink Bell to a long-term contract extension this offseason rather than applying the franchise tag on the running back, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. "We never will discount the use of the tag because that's collectively bargained," Colbert said Thursday. "But again, our goal is to have something done on a long-term basis.
Colbert's goal aligns with Bell's own wishes, as the soon-to-be 26-year-old said after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs Jan. 14 that he's eager to avoid a repeat of last offseason, when he sat out all of training camp while angling for a long-term deal before ultimately accepting a $12.1 million franchise tag. Though Bell would be projected to earn a slight pay increase if he were tagged again, the high attrition rate for NFL running backs makes it more appealing for him to work out a long-term contract in order to gain more financial security. Bell should have plenty of leverage in negotiations after amassing 1,946 total yards in 15 games last season to boost his average to 128.9 yards per game since the beginning of the 2013 campaign, far and away the top mark among running backs over that span.
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