The 4 p.m. deadline for Le’Veon Bell to sign his Franchise Tender with the Pittsburgh Steelers came and went without him ever reporting on Tuesday, November 13. As a result, the superstar All-Pro running back has been determined ineligible to play for the remainder of 2018 and he forfeits all of the $14.5 million he would have made had he joined the team at the beginning of the season, CBS reports.
The Bell saga had been a distressing one for fans and it proved to be a dividing factor inside of the Steelers’ locker room in the early weeks of his holdout. But Pittsburgh has been riding a five-game winning streak since opening the season with a 1-2-1 record, and it has become increasingly clear that they’ve been able to set the drama aside and band together in his absence. During a pre-practice interview with reporters on Wednesday morning, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger revealed that he had been trying to reach Bell to encourage him to reconsider his choice to move on, ahead of the moment of truth, but never received a response.
“I texted him yesterday before the deadline asking him [sic] saying, you know, I was hoping he was going to show up, and if he decided not to I wish him nothing but the best,” PennLive quotes Roethlisberger as stating. “He was a great teammate and football player. To each their own on what they want to walk away from.”
The unbelievable has finally happened: #Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell officially gives up $14.5M from a franchise tag in an attempt to stay healthy with hopes of a big payday in free agency in 2019. He won’t play in 2018. James Conner remains the featured back in Pittsburgh.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 13, 2018
Bell is yet to issue a statement in follow-up to the offer’s expiration. However, he did appear to hint that his decision to sit the season out may have had to do with backup James Conner earning the starting spot.
Just hours prior to the clock hand meeting the deadline, NFL Network analyst Andrew Siciliano tweeted a cryptic Instagram post that showed Bell casting a vote for Conner as his choice for the starting RB spot in the upcoming Pro-Bowl. The gesture followed in line with one that he made while Conner was showing out against the Carolina Panthers last week. Before Conner was knocked out of the contest with a possible concussion, Bell would take to Twitter to post a phrase recognized as a concession to the mercy rule in the Madden NFL video game, writing, “I think it’s safe to say, it’s time to pass the sticks.”
Conner has amassed 387 receiving yards to go along with 771 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns through the season’s first 10 games. Both his statistical production and multi-faceted ability as a blocker and dual-threat back have so far made his 2018 campaign comparable to Bell’s showing in past years. The outcome has led many who side with Pittsburgh in the contractual dispute to declare Bell’s virtual resignation a victory for the organization. While less than a handful of names in the entire NFL can stack up to Bell’s in a conversation on instincts and talent, the fact that he will be turning 27-years-old in February is believed to have inhibited the team’s front office from committing to his desire for a long-term lucrative contract. In Conner, they have the legs of a 23-year-old who still has two years left on a rookie contract that is only paying him $578,000 this season.
Le’Veon Bell just voted for James Conner for the Pro Bowl.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) November 13, 2018
Still, questions loom about Bell’s future and whether or not the Steelers are completely out of the picture at this point. As was previously noted in the Inquisitr’s coverage of the developments, Bell fails to accrue credit for the season toward his eligibility for free agency. Pittsburgh can therefore still choose to pin him down with a Franchise Tag designation in the off-season. Such an equation would be unlikely, however, as the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players stipulates that in it being the third time the franchise would be choosing to tag him, they’d have to up their offer to $25 million for 2019 should they go that route.
Thus, Bell will more likely than not enter the market come the spring, and there will be plenty of teams inquiring into his demands. Whether or not at his age he will get a deal in the range of Todd Gurley’s $60 million for four years, however, remains to be seen. The fact that Bell has had a couple of devastating injuries, including one that required surgery to his knee, may work against him. But reports indicate that the baller and his agent are banking on teams rolling the dice on Bell, seeing how he will be returning with a rejuvenated body after sitting out an entire season.