Bell, who was named first-team All-Pro after a monster season for the Steelers, could sit out the 2018 season or retire from football if the team tries to get him to play another season with the franchise tag, ESPN reported Thursday. That number would be roughly $14.5 million for 2018, Bell's age-26 campaign.
Team and player will face a similar dance whenever this season ends. That leaves it up to the Steelers to avoid the franchise tag and offer Bell a contract he can't refuse.
Bell is certainly one of the best running backs, and best players, in the NFL.
Bell still has plenty left in the tank professionally, but he's not onboard with playing under the franchise tag again for the second straight season. While the Steelers could prevent Bell from playing for another team by using the tag, they can't force him to play under it either.
They certainly can do other things to alleviate that issue, such as restructuring Ben Roethlisberger's contract (he's now at $23.2 million vs. the cap in what will be his age-36 season) or releasing a few veterans. The 25-year-old running back, who has taken more than 1,200 carries in five National Football League seasons, wants a multi-year deal that he feels like pays him enough.
The three-time Pro Bowler played the 2017 season on a one-year tender worth $12.1 million. Bell might have received a similar workload in the AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots a year ago, too, had he not aggravated a knee injury that limited him to six carries, with four of them coming in the first seven minutes of the game.
The problem for Bell is the amount of money he wants. While Bell is still relatively young, his increased workload in recent years could mean an earlier decline. "Now, I've done everything but own a Super Bowl". But for the Steelers it could net them more now than it would letting him walk as a free agent this offseason and possibly earning a compensatory pick (likely a third-rounder) in 2019. Now the headlines are what might happen with Bell next season.
Le'Veon Ball is attracting quite a bit of drama. Whether Pittsburgh is going to pay him or not won't be known until the offseason.