Le’Veon Bell may have flown back to the city of Pittsburgh, but whether or not his presence in town is an indicator that he is close to returning from his 10-week-long holdout remains to be seen. It has now come to light that Bell, and his agent, have only recently learned that they’ve got enough leverage to punt the season entirely, and still wind up winning big in 2019.
According to a Twitter post made by NFL Network personality Ian Rapaport, it wasn’t until Tuesday, November 6, that Bell’s team became aware of a clause in the NFL Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that would require the Steelers to up their offer to a quarterback rate of $25 million for the year, should they designate a third franchise tag to keep him from signing elsewhere come next September.
Bell has been engaged in a contractual dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2017 — when he began demanding a contract extension that at the time would have given him $17 million per year. Pittsburgh refused, and chose instead to mandate him to report and to sign a franchise tag that paid him no more than $12.1 million, according to CBS Sports.
Coming into 2018, the All-Pro star presented the organization with an ultimatum once more, and the powers that be responded by franchise tagging him again. This time, Bell has gone the extra mile by leaving the $14.5 million that he would get paid on the table, and opting to hold out until the present time.
This is fascinating. Sounds like Le’Veon Bell and his agent did not realize until it was reported (by @TomPelissero) that Bell’s tag next year would be the QB tag for about $25M. This makes it less likely that he shows because it’s either transition tag or free agent. https://t.co/MxeuzsRkFp
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 8, 2018
Early on in the season, it was thought by many that Bell would sit out a few weeks in anticipation that the Steelers might feel pressured to extend to him a satisfying offer. But as the weeks have gone by, it became more and more likely that Bell would keep away from the team until the November 13 deadline that he faces in order to accrue credit for the season.
Analysts expected that Bell might be willing to lose nearly $900,000 per week for a shot at a longterm deal, that he would definitely put an end to the holdout by the deadline, or that he would otherwise face the potential reality that Pittsburgh will apply the franchise tag in 2019 — preventing him from shopping himself in free agency come the offseason.
Up until Tuesday, the pieces appeared to be falling into place for Bell to pull an about face — perhaps showing up to the Steelers facility prepared to finally sign his franchise tag. The Inquisitr would report on him tweeting about leaving his vacationing and training location in Miami and touching down in the Steel City, per NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala. But, with Tom Pelissero revealing — through his research of the CBA — that Pittsburgh can only wait for Bell to return, or up their tag from $14.5 to $25 million, there is some reason to suspect that Bell and his agent may see the ball as being in their court.
With fill-in running back James Conner doing exceptionally well in Bell’s absence — and the organization already making it known that they see him as their future at the position — it is highly unlikely that the Steelers will pitch Bell an offer by Tuesday’s deadline. And with Bell standing to lose out on all $14.5 million — but anticipating that there will be a team willing to give him a long-term deal, allowing him to recoup the lost salary in the new year — there is reason to suspect that he may just take his chances and hold out through the entirety of 2018.
All Pittsburgh could do to stop him in such a scenario is to offer him more money, after all.