As Le’Veon Bell continues his absence, the Steelers still really don’t know when or if they’ll see him.
If he followed last year’s template, Le’Veon Bell would have signed his franchise tag tender just before Week 1 and been available to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That didn’t happen, and there was a more recent indication he’d be back with the team this past week during their bye. That didn’t happen either, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter the Steelers haven’t heard from Bell and don’t know when he’ll return.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II said this past week he doesn’t expect the team to trade Bell. He has been shopped, with rumors attaching a few teams with interest. But there are some indications Bell doesn’t want to be traded, with likely roots in the same rumored concerns over workload that have kept him away from the Steelers to this point, and thus won’t report until after the Oct. 30 trade deadline.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has backed that up, adding that several Steelers executives expect Bell to report going into Week 9 (after the trade deadline). Bell can return as late as the Tuesday after Week 10 (Nov. 13), sign his franchise tender and still accrue a vested season toward free agency next March.
Bell is exercising the leverage he has over the Steelers by staying away as long as possible. James Conner has filled in capably as Pittsburgh’s lead back, with 453 rushing yards (4.4 yards per carry, three 100-yard games), 26 receptions for 257 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. So a backfield split would be in order if/when Bell returns.
The Steelers could still trade Bell without him signing his franchise tender and reporting to their facility, but a deal would be predicated on him doing so before being moved. He’ll have to report soon if he wants to get a credited season and hit the open market next March, which is what he’s had his eye on all along. So while the Steelers technically don’t know when they’ll see Bell, they surely expected to see him no later than the end of the month.