Le'Veon Bell tells ESPN he'd consider sitting out 2018 if Steelers tag him again
Le'Veon Bell is playing the 2017 season under the franchise tag. The Steelers star running back made it clear he doesn't have intentions of doing the same in 2018.
ESPN asked Bell if he was prepared to sit out a season, or even retire, if the Steelers applied the franchise tag for the second consecutive year .
"I hope it doesn't come to that, but I would definitely consider it," Bell told the network.
Bell's salary for this season — his fifth in the NFL — is $12.1 million after the Steelers tagged him before he could test free agency this past spring. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Bell would make 120 percent of that amount (roughly $14.5 million) if he gets tagged a second consecutive season.
Bell and the Steelers failed to reach a multiyear extension earlier this year, so if he wanted to play, he had no choice but to abide by the terms of the franchise tag. Bell did not report to training camp and signed the tender the week before the regular season.
Bell maintained his stance was a principled one, and he told ESPN all he wants the Steelers to do is "value" him.
"Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything," Bell said. "I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I'm not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I'm not getting what I feel I'm valued at."
Bell had 406 touches in 15 games this season and was on pace for the 13th-most touches for a season in NFL history if he played in the regular-season finale (coach Mike Tomlin rested several starters). Even in 15 games, he had the 36th-most touches of all-time and the second-most for any player in a season since 2009.
Bell is off to one of the most productive five-year starts to a career for a running back in NFL history. He reached 7,500 yards from scrimmage in fewer games than any player (59) and by far leads the league in yards per scrimmage per game (129.0) since he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2013.
"I don't necessarily care about the money aspect of it," Bell told ESPN of his contract. "I just want to be valued where I'm at. If I am playing this game, I want to set standards for all the other running backs behind me, like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, guys like that. I'm a guy they can kind of look at. I feel I can do that. I'm in a position where I can do that, and I'm going to do it."
About 2½ hours after the ESPN story was published online, Bell posted a message to his verified Twitter account that reiterated his commitment to the Steelers during these playoffs but did not attempt to soften his stance on his contract situation:
"I'm trying to win a super bowl...I can care less about what happens after this season...my biggest thing I'm focused on is this team I'm on right now, playing for/with my brothers, & bringing back a 7th ring! what happens next year is irrelevant to my goals."
I'm trying to win a super bowl...I can care less about what happens after this season...my biggest thing I'm focused on is this team I'm on right now, playing for/with my brothers, & bringing back a 7th ring! what happens next year is irrelevant to my goals— Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) January 11, 2018
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.