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.
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.
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