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Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell optimistic about contract progress

| Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, 2:03 p.m.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell goes through drills during Pro Bowl practice, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Kissimmee, Fla.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell goes through drills during Pro Bowl practice, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Kissimmee, Fla.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. —Le'Veon Bell said he and the Steelers are making progress on a contract extension.

The team has presented an initial offer, and the star running back said "we are a lot closer than we were last year."

Speaking Wednesday at the Pro Bowl, Bell said he doesn't believe talks will drag on. "I think we'll get something done and it will be exciting for both sides, for the fans and everybody," he said.

Bell, who turns 26 next month, turned down a long-term contract in 2017, skipped training camp and then signed a one-year, $12.1 million franchise tender. He made almost twice as much in base salary as any other running back in the league last season.

Bell has repeatedly said he wants to be valued at a salary that would re-set the market for running backs, whose pay haven't kept up with the inflation of those at other NFL positions in recent years.

The Steelers could franchise him again in March, a move Bell last month told ESPN would force him to consider retiring or sitting out the 2018 season. A second tag would be worth around $14.5 million – more than double the highest 2018 base salary for any running back under contract (Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, $6.75 million).

Bell led the NFL in touches (404) this past season and is off to one of the most productive five-year starts to a career in NFL history for a running back. He reached 7,500 yards from scrimmage in fewer games than any player in league history (59) and by far leads the league in most yards per scrimmage per game (129.0) since he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2013.

But 2017, by some measures, was Bell's least productive season. His average yards per carry (4.0) was his worst since his rookie season, and his average yards per reception (7.7) and fumbles (three) were also second-worst of his career. Bell managed just three carries of at least 20 yards during the regular season.

Bell did, though, amass 1,291 rushing yards (third in the NFL) and catch 85 passes (10th in the NFL and tops among running backs) for 655 receiving yards. He finished second to Todd Gurley in yards from scrimmage (1,946) and perhaps most importantly stayed healthy from start to finish of a season for the first time in his career.

Bell has been a first- or second-team All Pro during each of the past three seasons in which he played more than six games.

As it stands now and not even accounting for Bell yet, the Steelers are over the projected 2018 salary cap for players under contract. They do, however, have several players whose contracts could be restructured, and others who could be cut or given more cap-friendly contract extensions.

The only other running back currently under contract for 2018 with the Steelers is James Conner, the rookie from Pitt who had 32 carries in 14 games this season before going on injured reserve because of a torn MCL.

Bell insists his preference would be to remain with the Steelers.

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