Report: Steelers to use franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell again
With the NFL Combine in the rear-view mirror after final workouts Monday, the Steelers will jump headfirst into perhaps their most important offseason business as they face a 4 p.m. deadline Tuesday to use the franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell for a second consecutive season.
The NFL Network reported Monday the Steelers are expected to tag Bell but will continue negotiations until the deadline. Bell told ESPN the Steelers will tag him barring a last-minute agreement, which he viewed as unlikely.
"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 told ESPN. "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."
Despite some early optimism at getting a long-term deal done before the deadline, the #Steelers are expected to franchise tag RB Le'Veon Bell before the Tuesday deadline, barring a dramatic turn in talks. Both sides will keep working on a deal.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 5, 2018
General manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers were hoping not to use the franchise tag and sign Bell to a long-term contract. Colbert also said he was prepared to use the tag, if necessary, because it is an option under the collective bargaining agreement.
"We are going to continue to have negotiations with Le'Veon and (agent) Adisa Bakari," Colbert said last week in Indianapolis on the eve of the NFL Combine. "Try to figure out common ground for a long-term deal. I think that is not only our goal, but their goal as well."
The franchise tag will set Bell's salary for next season at $14.54 million. It can be used as a placeholder until July 16 for the two sides to continue working out terms of a long-term deal. Last year, after Bell was franchised at $12.12 million, the two sides failed to negotiate a contract, and it gave the All-Pro running back leverage to skip training camp. Bell did not sign his franchise tender until the week before the regular season, and it's a process the Steelers do not wish to repeat again.
Bell was not happy he played under the tag last season. He told ESPN on Monday that he wasn't bluffing in January when he said he would consider sitting out the season if he is tagged again.
"I just have to decide if I'm going to play when the time comes," Bell told ESPN.
If the Steelers use the franchise tag on Bell and he does not sign it, the franchise also has the option of rescinding it, which would make Bell a free agent. For example: The Steelers see no progress on a long-term deal with Bell by, say, the NFL Draft. The Steelers could rescind Bell's offer and select a running back in the draft to replace him. Bell would enter free agency but at an undesirable time of the calendar. It is the risk a player faces when he does not sign his franchise tender.
The Steelers used the exclusive franchise tag on Bell last year, which meant no other teams could negotiate with him. Under the non-exclusive tag, teams could negotiate with Bell. The Steelers would have the right to match any offer or receive two first-round draft picks in return.
"We'll see where that goes, but we haven't really talked too much about that," Colbert said last week. "What we are focused on is let's get a long-term deal done."