Le’Veon Bell may sit out half the season without long-term deal

Pittsburgh Steelers

As Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers play the leverage game in contract talks, Bell may be ready to lay his biggest card on the table.

Upon being franchise-tagged last year, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t show up until just before Week 1, signed his tender and went on to put up a typical season (1,291 rushing yards, 85 receptions, 11 total touchdowns). He was tagged again by the Steelers this year, and Monday afternoon is the deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to a multi-year deal.

There has been optimism from both sides regarding contract negotiations. As reports of no looming deal for other players who were given the franchise tag, Bell’s prospects of a deal with the Steelers have been deemed as going “down to the wire.”

But Bell may be ready to put his only card on the table. During an appearance on Sirius XM, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said it’s possible Bell sits out half the upcoming season if he doesn’t get a long-term deal.

Bell is still only 26 years old, but he led the NFL in carries last year with 321 and added 85 receptions. For his career he has averaged 24.9 touches per game, which makes him a unique workhorse and the Steelers’ most important offensive player. Directly behind him on the depth chart is James Conner ( 32 carries as a rookie in 2017), followed by Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels.

Under his 2018 franchise tag value of $14.54 million, Bell would forfeit $909,000 per game and a total of $7.27 million by sitting out half the season. Extend that out to Week 10, past the deadline to collect all of the franchise tag money on the Tuesday after, and Bell would give up nine game checks (Steelers have their bye in Week 7).

Bell’s only leverage in long-term contract talks with the Steelers is to, essentially, threaten a withdrawal of services until the last possible point in the 2018 season to still get an accrued season. Time will tell if he actually sits out eight games, in some effort to save his body, but an absence through training camp seems sure to be repeated if a multi-year deal is not done.

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