Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell faces another offseason shrouded in uncertainty. After playing on the franchise tag in 2017, albeit reluctantly, Bell is looking to cash in on a long term deal.
Entering his sixth NFL season, the former Michigan State standout has consistently been one of the league's best backs over the past four years. His unique, patient running style coupled with his versatility in the receiving game make him an elite weapon that the Steelers desperately need to cling on to.
The three-time All Pro has finished in the top five for rushing yards in the three of the past four seasons, including an outstanding 2017 in which he gained 1291 on the ground along with a further 655 receiving yards.
Though Bell did earn the most money by any running back this season, his production deserves a long term deal and he may look elsewhere should the Steelers refuse to give him one.
He certainly wouldn't be short of suitors willing to pay up given his proven talent, but that doesn't necessarily mean the soon to be 26-year-old would leave the Steelers to the highest bidder.
In an amusing Twitter exchange earlier this month, a rather ambitious Jets fan tweeted at Bell to try and persuade him to come to New York, saying: " I speak on behalf of the New York Jets, well give you $60 million in cash if you come play for us"
It's safe to say the star running back wasn't impressed with the offer...
Bell seems dead set on getting his dues, but it isn't as simple as just paying up for the Steelers. They have the (minor) problem of ensuring all three of their offensive stars, as well as some key role players, get fairly compensated.
Ben Roethlisberger could be up for contract extension talks before camp begins and Antonio Brown just got his big pay day last year. Additionally, Martavis Bryant has already threatened to play out his deal if he isn't given a new deal this offseason.
The solution, in the name of winning, might be for all three to take a little less than they could get elsewhere. And, according to Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, Bell should value remaining a Steeler for life over money.
Speaking on his Fox Sports morning show First Things First, Carter said the following on Bell's impending free agency:
"At some point the franchise is at the mercy of these skill guys...he is a special, special player but for me you have to check your ego in with trying to be the highest paid running back.
"Some of those things aren't as important as staying a Pittsburgh Steeler [his] whole career"
The problem for GM Kevin Colbert and the Steelers is finding that middle ground and not overpaying for Bell. In 2017, an agreement with their star running back was close on a five-year deal that would’ve averaged about $12 million a year.
Placing the franchise tag on Bell again won't be anyones first choice, but it could be the Steelers only option to keep him from leaving in free agency.
However, the tag doesn't necessarily mean a long term deal can't be negotiated, it is just a potential mechanism to prevent Bell leaving the organisation.
Whether Bell would react badly to it is another story completely. Whichever way he chooses to go, he would be well advised to heed Carter's words.
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