The deadline has officially passed for Le’Veon Bell, meaning he will sit out the remainder of the NFL season.
All throughout the Le’Veon Bell saga, there was at least some chance he might have been bluffing in his high stakes game of chicken with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It turns out he was not.
Bell has failed to report to Steelers headquarters by the the 4:00 p.m. ET deadline, which means he will have to sit out for the remainder of the season. That will cost him roughly $14.5 million in salary. But it is about more than money for Bell at this point.
The running back is just 26 years old and in the prime of his career. For Bell, it is more about preserving himself for 2019 and a new contract. Because Bell turned down a five-year, $70 million deal at the beginning of the 2018 season, he was able to stay away. It seemed as if Bell was just posturing for better contract terms, but with the deadline passing, it was more than just a negotiating tactic.
At the beginning of the season, this seemed to be a selfish move on Bell’s part. But with James Conner’s emergence at running back for the Steelers, this could be less of a hit to the team than originally anticipated. While Bell is certainly taking a risk skipping what history suggests would be one of the best possible years of his career, the Steelers are in good hands with his replacement.
Many expected Bell to return just before the deadline as he returned to Pittsburgh last week. Now that Bell is definitely not coming back, it will be interesting to see where contract talks go from here. If the All-Pro running back does not agree to terms on a new deal with the Steelers, they still have the opportunity to place a third franchise tag on him in 2019, which would be valued at $25 million-plus, even though he will not have played a down of football in 2018. There is also an opportunity of a transition tag at $14.5 million that would allow the Steelers to match any deal that Bell is offered in free agency. While this is certainly not the end of the Bell drama, it adds more clarity to the situation for now.