It’s official: Le’Veon Bell will become a free agent in three weeks.
General manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday the Pittsburgh Steelers will not use the franchise or transition tag on the 27-year-old running back, which will allow him to enter free agency March 13.
Colbert said the cost of the transition tag, which he thinks will be $14.54 million, would be too prohibitive for the Steelers as they enter free agency. The Steelers are about $19.4 million under the salary cap, according to overthecap.com.
“Le’Veon is still a great player,” Colbert said. “We can’t afford to use any type of tag with the other needs that we have.”
The Steelers could have tagged Bell for a third consecutive season after issuing the franchise tag for $12.12 million in 2017 and for $14.54 million in ‘18. Bell, of course, declined to sign his franchise-tag tender last year and sat out the entire season. A third consecutive franchise tag would have cost an approximate $26 million salary-cap number.
Upon hearing the news, Bell sent out a celebratory tweet.
Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I am free at last ??????
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) February 20, 2019
The transition tag, while more cost efficient, came with risks Colbert didn’t want to take.
By allowing Bell to leave as a free agent, the Steelers are eligible for a compensatory draft pick in 2020. Under transition tag rules, the Steelers would have received no compensation for Bell if they declined to match an offer he received on the open market.
The Steelers will move forward with third-year runner James Conner, a Pro Bowl selection last year, and second-year back Jaylen Samuels.
Colbert also left open the possibility for Bell to return to the Steelers.
“Will he still be in our thinking? Sure,” he said. “We will always continue to monitor everybody out there because we do not know where our market will be, where his will be and those type of things will still be available to us, but there will not be a tag or restriction on him from our point.”