Bell's agent said Tuesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio that the running back is expected to skip training camp but report to the team before Week 1.
It appears Bell will take a similar route to what he did last year, when he reported to the Steelers and signed his tender just nine days before the start of the regular season. Bell was unable to reach a long-term contract agreement before Monday's deadline, and his agent hinted that this would be Bell's final season in Pittsburgh given the circumstances. The 26-year-old is set to make $14.54 million this season, and a third year under the franchise tag would cost approximately $21 million in 2019. Bell should be fit and ready for his 2018 campaign, looking to make a strong impression before he hits the open market next offseason.
Bell is thus slated to play under the franchise tag for a second straight year, with his $14.54 million cap number easily leading all running backs. He waited until the end of the preseason to sign his tender last year, reporting to the Steelers just nine days before their season opener. The 26-year-old dropped hints that he would follow a similar path in 2018 if he didn't get a long-term deal, but there hasn't been anything definitive regarding his plans. Bell technically can wait until Week 11 to sign the tag and still be eligible for free agency next offseason, but he would miss out on more than $850,000 each week he sits outs. For what it's worth, he posted Monday on his personal Twitter account that 2018 will be his best season to date, a hint that he doesn't plan to extend a holdout into the regular season. The Steelers have every incentive to give him a huge workload once he shows up, as Bell's agent said Monday that this likely will be the running back's final season in Pittsburgh, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. A third franchise tag would cost approximately $21 million, and it's evident the Steelers have no intention of paying Bell at his open-market value on a multi-year deal.
Bell could elect to hold out of training camp if a new contract isn't done by July 16, according to Joe Rutter of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
With just over a week until the extension deadline, Bell still has not signed his franchise tender and appears poised for a second straight preseason holdout. He's seeking a long-term contract worth around $17 million per year, compared to the $14.55 million tender currently on the table. The deadline is July 16.
Bell made similar comments in January but then said in March that he's prepared to follow the same path as last season when he reported to the team Sept. 1. He's scheduled to earn $14.54 million in 2018 under the franchise tag, with a July 16 deadline to reach terms on an extension. The Steelers already have a lot of money invested in their offense between Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and a veteran O-line, but they could still find a way to pay Bell if they're comfortable relying on young, inexpensive players at TE and WR (besides Brown). Bell's fantasy owners would like to see an extension, considering the 26-year-old back struggled in September last year after sitting out training camp and the preseason. He rebounded from the slow start with 1,710 scrimmage yards, 72 receptions and 10 touchdowns over his final 12 regular-season games, then went for 155 and two scores in a playoff loss to Jacksonville.
Bell does not plan to attend OTAs, ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler reports.
Bell has already suggested -- barring a contract extension -- he'll follow a route similar to the one he took last year, when he first reported to team facilities in early September after the final exhibition game. He got off to a slow start with 37 carries for 119 yards and seven catches for 19 yards the first two weeks of the season, yet still managed to finish the year with 1,946 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games. The Steelers have until July 16 to sign Bell to a long-term contract, or else he'll play under the franchise tag for $14.54 million, then presumably find a new home next offseason. The team was reported to have interest in some of the top running backs in April's draft, but ultimately didn't address the position until selecting hybrid RB/FB/TE Jaylen Samuel in the fifth round. This could be taken as a sign that there's still some hope of extending Bell, though prior negotiations don't seem to have come close to an agreement.
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