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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Le'Veon Bell making it impossible to stay with Steelers long term

| Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 12:18 a.m.
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell avoids the Patriots' Malcolm Butler in the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell avoids the Patriots' Malcolm Butler in the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell turns the corner on the Ravens' Brandon Carr for a fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell turns the corner on the Ravens' Brandon Carr for a fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell stiff-arms the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell stiff-arms the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

For a guy who claims he doesn't want to play on the franchise tag, Le'Veon Bell is making it impossible for his team to give him a long term contract.

For a guy who claims that he wants to be a Steeler his entire career, Le'Veon Bell is making it impossible to stay here beyond 2018.

The Steelers told Bell that he will be getting a one-year $14.5 million franchise tag contract before the NFL deadline Tuesday afternoon, unless the sides reach a long-term deal before then.

Bell let the media know such a compromise won't be happening anytime soon.

The Steelers All Pro running back told ESPN.com, "We're not coming to a number we both agree on — they are too low, or I guess they feel I'm too high," Bell said. "I'm playing for strictly my value to the team. That's what I'm asking. I don't think I should settle for anything less than what I'm valued at."

Well, that's a tough thing for the Steelers to accomplish when it's Bell himself who is setting his own value.

ESPN.com reporter Jeremy Fowler later explained (in a video portion of his report) that Bell meant if the franchise tag is $14.5 million, then that should be the floor of his contract — that he should never have to play for less than that.

Someone should explain to Bell — and/or his agents — that's not what the franchise tag is supposed to represent. That's particularly true for the second year tag the Steelers are apparently willing to pay.

The franchise tag isn't crafted to be a true representation of player value. It's meant to be an inflated poison pill. It's meant to be a deterrent, or a "break glass in case of emergency" tool.

More or less, the collective bargaining agreement is saying: "You don't want to pay your star player long term? OK. Then you are going to make it burdensome against your cap to keep him. Plus, he's getting a big chunk of cash in one year."

If Bell doesn't know that by now, he should.

If Bell doesn't get why the Steelers aren't going to pay him the franchise tag fee every year of an extended deal, someone should explain why they won't.

And if Bell doesn't grasp why the average annual value really doesn't matter, then negotiations aren't worth having any further.

I've long said general manager Kevin Colbert should keep Bell on the tag. Months of media and fan fretting over how that would cripple the Steelers salary cap is misinformation.

What would be crippling for the team, though, is paying $14.5 million in cash, every year, minimum, non-negotiable, to a player who is going have declining skills as he gets older.

Bell and his agents are suddenly approaching these negotiations like he's a hockey player, as if the average annual value (AAV) amount against the cap is important.

It isn't. Or at least it shouldn't be. The reason why the Steelers want Bell on that long-term deal is so they can move the money around year to year to keep his cap figure manageable. They'd want to pay him more cash up front and prorate the pinch on the cap at a lower number over the life of the contract.

Bell shouldn't care what his yearly number is against the cap. That's just an ego figure. What should matter is the guaranteed dollars up front. That, allegedly, was the case last year when Bell said no to $42 million, because he wasn't sure how much of that he'd actually see.

According to offseason speculation, Bell was going to see roughly $30 million of that for sure.

So, greedy? Maybe. But at least I understood where he was coming from.

However, this latest layer to Bell's contract demand is nothing more than him rapping about wanting $15 million per year again, like he did before 2016 ended.

With Bell, one week it's AAV. The next week, it's cash up front. Then next it's guaranteed dollars over the life of the deal. Now, it's AAV again because he's hung up on the franchise tag.

No one wonder Colbert can't get this contract done. He has no idea what the guy on the other side of the table is asking for.

Bell said to ESPN the Steelers have come up from their $13 million per-year offer of last summer. Well, if he started at $15 million and has come down less than $500,000 in two years, then this isn't a negotiation, it's a take-it-or-leave-it stick up.

I'm in favor of the Steelers keeping Bell for at least 2018. But if it's going to be beyond that, Bell needs to close the rest of the gap himself.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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