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Steelers

Steelers' Art Rooney II wants to sign Le'Veon Bell to long-term deal

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, 3:30 p.m.
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell arrives to play the Texans Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell arrives to play the Texans Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Steelers president Art Rooney II expects running back Le'Veon Bell, an impending free agent, to be back with the team in 2018 — and possibly beyond.

“We'd like to have a long-term contract with Le'Veon,” Rooney II told reporters Wednesday.

Bell, who earned $12.12 million this past year while playing under the franchise tag, could see his salary jump to $14.5 million if the Steelers tag him again. Bell said at the Pro Bowl the two sides are closer to a long-term contract than in July when the NFL deadline passed without a signed contract.

Rooney didn't dispute Bell's comments. He didn't endorse them, either.

“It's hard for me to predict these things,” Rooney said. “Normally, they come down to the last minute. I've learned not to predict because sometimes I've been surprised. There were things that got done that I didn't think would get done and vice versa.

“We'll go through the process and do our best. The good news is I think both sides want to get something done here.”

To avoid using the franchise tag for a second consecutive year, the Steelers would have to sign Bell to a long-term deal by March 6. The Steelers don't have enough salary cap space to fit $14.5 million into their budget without cutting veterans or restructuring several contracts.

“I'd rather cross that bridge when we come to it,” Rooney said. “Over the next several weeks, we'll try to see if we can get it figured out.”

Bell ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards and finished second in yards from scrimmage while remaining free of injury for the season.

In the days before the Steelers' divisional-round playoff loss to Jacksonville, Bell told ESPN he would consider sitting out the 2018 season or retire if forced to play on the franchise tag again.

“It doesn't serve me any purpose to react to that,” Rooney said. “We try to deal directly with the player and his agent, and we'll do our best to see if we can get something done.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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