2017 South Side Questions: Will Bell Toll For Steelers In 2018, And Will It Be Under Tag?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments for as long as they push on through the postseason, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Will Le’Veon Bell play the 2018 season with the Steelers, and if so, will it be under a franchise tag?

I realize a lot of comments in response to this article will point out that this is a question for the offseason and they don’t want to discuss it now. These people will just have to move on to another article. Things like this are far more of a ‘distraction’ to fans than to the team. They all already knew this.

There are a number of different ways that things can play out in the offseason with Le’Veon Bell, and each outcome has a number of proponents who are highly confident that that is definitely, absolutely the way that it will happen.

Bell, entering his sixth season in 2018 after playing the current campaign under a franchise tag valued just north of $12 million, appears fully intent on making the bank that he has been singing about for a year or two now. Personally, I can’t blame him. it’s his job and his life. He’s not obligated to love the Steelers so much he’ll play for less. I’d like it if he would, but I can’t expect it of him, and my reasons for feeling that way are purely selfish.

Because of his tag value in 2017, Bell’s tag value will be around $15 million in 2018. That is a hefty sum, and one I’m not absolutely certain the Steelers will be willing to play. If it means keeping a championship window intact, they may, but I don’t think this is a shoe-in.

A long-term deal seems even more unlikely, especially given that they already tried to come to an agreement into the 11th hour last summer and failed to do so. I’m not sure what will have changed between now and then to raise the confidence in getting it done. Bell had an All-Pro campaign and their salary cap situation already necessitates cuts or restructures to fit his hypothetical new deal in.

The alternative to a franchise tag or a new deal is simply to walk away from the relationship, which is an option I believe is solidly in play. And that could come after a franchise tag is enacted. The Panthers rescinded Josh Norman’s tag just a couple of years ago.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Chad Weiss

    Why wouldn’t they tag and trade him instead of letting him role into free agency?

  • Jason

    Before the masses come after me for this let me 1st say I know what Bell brings to this team, however there’s no way I would give him a long term contract with the numbers he’s demanding. First off, history has proven RB’s that carry this kind of load fall off the cliff very quickly. How many years does he have left that he can perform at this level? With rb’s like Kareem Hunt or Kamara being taken outside the 1st rd is it that impossible to get near his production in the draft? Again, I’m not understating his importance to this team but I think paying him 15+ per season would be a mistake.

  • Jason

    Because whoever they trade him to would be on the hook for that money on a rb who already has an injury history. That team would have to be willing to play the ridiculous money he wants long term or risk him sitting out on them all year.

  • CP72

    People seem to think you should “just tag him” then let him walk after 2018. I’m not sure the Steelers can afford to do that.

    Seen projections the Steelers have 2.5 to 4.5 of cap space. Look at Bell’s tag and some other known costs were going to have. I’ll be optimistic and use 4.5 million in cap space to start.

    14.5 million for Bell’s franchise tag
    6 million for signing the draft class
    3 million for tendering restricted free agents
    2 million for contingencies during the season

    That is a 21 million dollar short fall with 4.5 million in cap space.

    You’d have to cut Haden, McDonald, Wilcox, Foster, Gay, and DHB to get back to even. Of course then you’d also have to replace those guys.

  • CP72

    This is a deep running back class in the draft this year.

  • John

    A talent he is when healthy, but I’ve said this elsewhere: He and his agent do a good job of backing his asset into a corner.

  • Jason

    And i wouldn’t discount Connor and Ridley being in the mix. The latter has played pretty well since joining the team.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’m with CP72. I’ve been wondering for a while how the heck they planned on paying him. He laid it out below. Do we seriously want to let Haden walk?
    They’re going to have to kick some things around just to do necessary housekeeping next season.
    If we’re wrong, please let us know.

  • NinjaMountie

    Well put. Thank you. I think there are just a few of us that have been vocal about wondering how they can get it done.
    I just don’t think he’s worth it. I truly don’t.

  • CP72

    Ben got paid
    AB got paid
    DeCastro got paid
    Pouncey got paid
    Heyward got paid
    Tuitt got paid
    Haden got paid

    Somebody isn’t going to.

  • Chad Weiss

    So what you are saying is he will be a Cleveland B4own next year via trade?

  • NinjaMountie

    We have the most 10mill+ players of anyone in the league. By a good margin.
    As you said, we can’t pay everyone.

  • CP72

    Somebody will pay him. Teams have 70…80…100 million in cap space. Giving him 15 million a year is a mistake, but you can make mistakes when you have that much room for error.

    Just out of curiosity have the Patriots had one pro bowl running back during their run of championships? I can’t think of one.

  • francesco

    Bell will have his contract because this will be Ben’s final year. Steelers will obviously use Landry Jones going forward and will draft a QB in 1st round this year so as to be their starter the year following. 2nd round will be ILB to make up for Shazier. 3rd round a Safety to replace Mitchell. They will add a CB in FA. 4th round a WR to replace Bryant. 5th round a OLB to replace Dupree.

  • NinjaMountie

    Ben’s contract just doesn’t disappear if he retires, which I highly doubt he will.
    Even if Ben should retire the savings isn’t enough to sign Bell to what he wants.
    Ben would account for 12mill in dead money with only a 10mill savings.
    So where are they going to get the money to sign the CB in FA?
    5th round OLBs don’t pan out too often.
    Optimistic of you but I don’t see how that unfolds.

  • CP72

    100 million on 179 million-ish cap tells you all need to know.

  • CP72

    I like it when they say cut player X and just replace him with a rookie. Sounds easy. All you have to do is draft 4 rookie starters in one draft class.

  • jsteeler72

    is that counting Bell’s current contract into the cap number? I assume as you are projecting these are the cap numbers without Bell’s salary included that’s why you listed 14.5 mil instead of the 2 plus mil difference from his current tag price.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’d be okay with a highly talented rookie ILB next season. I wouldn’t even want to start a rookie S with Davis, though. Assuming they part ways with Mitchell.

  • Doug Andrews

    Tough decision maybe Bell thinks he can get a long term deal done. While i’d like to just tag him and move on I know the cap situation might not allow that to happen for a second year in a row. I just wonder how effective will Bell be on a team that can offer him the money he wants. Such as Miami or the Browns?

  • NinjaMountie

    Bell isn’t on the books at all so any contract or tag will be a brand new charge. Yes, he’d “only” be making 2ish million more than this year but it’s a full 15 million charge when we are right up against the cap as it is.
    I don’t want them to do it but I’d be real curious to see how they would.

  • CP72

    Bell doesn’t have a contract for next year. The 12 million dollar franchise tag is a one year deal. He’s a free agent unless they franchise him. It’s a 15 million addition to the bottom line if that happens.

  • EdJHJr

    Not if it’s Barkley

  • CP72

    Who’s going to be gone 20 picks before our pick.

  • NinjaMountie

    at least

  • EdJHJr

    It’s always never in stone, but Barkley can run,catch,block.

  • jsteeler72

    got it thanks

  • capehouse

    yeah that’s why he’s a top 10 pick and the best RB in the draft. Probably top 5 pick.

  • jsteeler72

    Yes I can agree it will be interesting to see how they do it. I do not want them to do that either, but who knows. I think we can win with out him and we have before.

  • Kevin artis

    The teams that are able to pay him are usually the bottom feeders of the league. I don’t know a top team that has the cap space to afford him.
    He will probably go to the Browns or another team with a vast amount of cap space and be irrelevant on that team because the team around him is bad.

  • falconsaftey43

    I don’t think anyone is going to come after you for that, it’s a very reasonable stance. A long term deal for Bell at the money he’s asking for just isn’t a great situation for the Steelers. He’s a year older, 400+ more touches than last year, and sounds as if his asking price has gone up. IMO, it’s pretty much tag or move on as the only options. Tag is still hard to fit under the cap, but there isn’t that long term risk.

    The only thing I would caution is the idea that RBs are easy to find. Yes, good/great RBs are found in mid-late round draft picks, and not infrequently. This past draft was really good at RB, and this year’s looks good as well. But, the success rate on RB’s drafted still isn’t really great. There are a lot of RBs taken in the first 1-3 rounds that don’t pan out, so there is some risk to going into the draft counting on gettting your feature RB. It’s a big factor when considering Ben’s closing window. Have to make sure you have the spot covered.

  • ryan72384

    If we win the Super Bowl Bell is gone. They will be satisfied with the trophy and realize it’s time to move on. Save money and prepare for the future. If we don’t win it all I think they will make the effort to resign or franchise. But that’s no guarantee considering the cost

  • CP72

    Corey Dillon, Antoine Smith, Kevin Faulk, LeGarette Blount, Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, Kevin White….running backs the damn Patriots have won championships with.

  • Rocksolid20

    Or Redskin .

  • Rocksolid20

    They will be in the mix but neither is a #1 back .

  • Rocksolid20

    Wrong .

  • NinjaMountie

    Can you tell us how it’s wrong? We’d love to know.

  • Brian Miller

    Agree 100% with everything you said Falcon…I really want to keep Bell for his entire career, but we can’t mortgage the future of the team for 1 player that is not a QB in my opinion. Especially if his price has gone up, and BB comes back, and Brown’s raise, plus the players we must keep for our Defense as well. It is a tough spot, but Franchise Tag or letting him walk are the only real options to me, and I fear that him walking is the higher % at this point. One thing that is not talked about very much is his great blocking ability…I will miss that and I am sure BB will miss that as well…

  • Jason

    As far as coming after me I was referring to the “pay him whatever he ask for” crowd. Reasonably thinking people who can put their pom poms for 5 minutes know this just isn’t a good business decision. And I agree that a RB with Bell’s skill set won’t be easy to find but if Ben returns this roster is capable of getting it done with a good if not great back.

  • JZ

    agreed! we have connor and we should keep ridley

  • JZ

    we also need to find an ILB in free agency to replace shazier if he doesn’t come back… draft a safety first round, ILB 2nd, OLB third……

  • JZ

    corey dillon

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I cannot be mad at anyone in this scenario, honestly.

    From Bell’s perspective, running backs today are severely undervalued—and in an era when all-purpose backs are the new hot commodity (Bell, David Johnson, Dalvin Cook). He’s absolutely right about that. Offenses are built around these do-it-all backs, and they are asked to do a LOT more than their predecessors ever were. And Bell isn’t just playing the part, he’s getting results. He’s setting records, he’s making big plays, he’s a vital cog of this offense, and he is winning the Steelers games. Bell is a generational talent, and at 25-35 touches per game, he’s right up there in value to the team as a QB and a #1 WR. You think the Steelers would be 13-3 without Bell? You think they’d have a first-round bye without him? Would you honestly like this team’s chances of going to the Super Bowl without him? I don’t, and I wouldn’t. When you’re the best at something, you deserve to get paid like the best. And besides, since there are no guaranteed tomorrows in this violent sport, Bell has every right to seek a high-paying contract for the risk he puts himself through.

    From the Steelers’ perspective, of course they value Bell. Of course they want him here. Of course they want to do right by him. They didn’t tag Bell just to use him—they seemed intent on working out a long-term deal. If they tag him again, I expect it will be with the intent of giving it another try. And if the front office is trying to preserve a championship team (especially in Ben’s last years), making a change to the lead running back (and thereby taking everything Bell’s skills allow you to do) could very well be the difference between barely making the playoffs and having a legit shot at another title. But can they afford to reset the running back market? Will that tie up too much money that they need to spend in other places? Is it a bigger gamble to overhaul the backfield (through free agency and/or the draft), or to pay Bell and hope to squeeze greatness out of this group as much as possible?

    No one here is wrong is all I’m saying.

    What I can’t figure out is what scenario makes this decision murkier: if the Steelers win the Super Bowl or if they don’t.

  • GravityWon

    It is too early to decide. Many things will impact the decision such as did the Steelers win the Superbowl? Is Ben returning?

    What free agents will be available? Are they a better use of $15+ MM?

  • LucasY59

    unless the Steelers get a good return from him (either via sign and trade or a team signing him away, if the Steelers use the non exclusive franchise tag) I think he is with the Steelers and playing under the tag, I dont see how it is a bad deal for either side to have him play for almost 15 mil, Bell is a very good RB so as long as he plays like he did this yr then he is worth 15, and Bell should be happy to get the 15 since I dont think he could make a lot more than that as a RB elsewhere

    the biggest problem is that the Steelers dont have the cap space to pay him that much (but can clear that much if needed with some cuts and restructures) and for Bell it is the uncertainty of not having a long term deal (but I have said many times that if that was his main goal he shouldve taken the deal offered last yr)

    the Steelers need to try and win next yr and Bell helps them do so, so again I think he is with the team, I am not confident he will accept a long term deal so I think it will be the last with the Steelers

  • Christopher Marks

    What would you guys think about franchising him and then trading him to the browns or someone with a very high pick and the needed cap space so we can draft a top 10 QB prospect to groom under ben for a year or two before he retires.

  • LucasY59

    IF he is gone I think they can still do well without him, the Draft has talented RBs that should be available and because they are likely to get a high draft pick in return for Bell moving on, they could use their original pick to get a good RB and there is a good chance a good one would even be available in the 2nd

    so early top 10 pick gets them Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Roquan Smith (and doubtful but small possibility of getting Saquon Barkley) their original 1st could get them Ronnie Harrison or Rashaan Evans (or a different RB, S or ILB) and then the 2nd rdr would get them whatever was left of those 3 positions and then they can get a TE in the 3rd (who knows a RB could even make it to the 3rd rd and they could get a TE earlier)

    since Bell is short term there are definitely options where they could move him and not decline all that much, there are some decent FA RBs that will be much more affordable than Bell so pair a Vet with Conner and a Rookie and they should have a talented backfield

  • LucasY59

    I think they are drafting a ILB and a S with their top 2 picks, I think the ILB can start right away, Spence or Fort are depth guys not starters

    I think the rookie S is going to have to start as a dime guy and hopefully halfway through the season him and Mitchell can swap and the rookie will start and Mike will be the sub package guy for the remainder of the season, Its not that I dont think the S will be good enough to start right away, but the FO will want MM there until they know for sure the rookie is ready (other than the cost of keeping Mitchell around its kinda the ideal way of transitioning to a younger player)

  • LucasY59

    was Kevin Taylor also? (the guy that played for the Jags before going to the hateriots)

  • LucasY59

    they can restructure Brown DeCastro and Tuitt also (they should be around long enough that moving their $ should be ok)

  • Rotten Sircus

    I thought the Steelers were under the salary cap for next season ? Why not just pay Leveon …It’s no way he’ll retire at 25 and turn down 15million guaranteed I highly doubt that but I’d hate to see him wearing another teams jersey !!!

  • Brantley Stockton

    I’m not coming after you, as I believe your argument is logical. But consider this:

    Bell had 85 receptions this year. That’s more catches than Demaryius Thomas, Davante Adams, Doug Baldwin, AJ Green, etc. Oh and he also had 321 carries – most in the league.
    I would argue that he is more important to this offense than AB. But Brown has a higher starting point, salary-wise, because he is a WR. Just like DBs make more than linebackers on the other side.

    If I was GM, I’d give Ben, Bell, and Brown $17M a year each. One hand washes the other, and both hands wash the face.

  • Brantley Stockton

    Don’t need running backs when you’ve got zebras.

  • LucasY59

    now my mind is starting to run with possibilities…

    teams that I would think would be interested in Bell:

    Niners: have the most cap space for 2018, also seem to have their Franchise QB with Garrapollo… that cap space could disappear quick, possible return from a sign and trade Niners 1st rd pick and a 3rd (they have 2) …could maybe even trade away Bryant since he seemed to want out at one point (Steelers get back their 4th rd pick that they used to get McDonald?) so that gives them the 9th overall pick, either the 70th or 74th pick (and a late 4th rd pick if they also move Martavis) could get James, Fitzpatrick or Smith (like I mentioned above) with the 9th pick and then fill a rookie RB, S or LB, TE, with the next 3 picks, could even use some picks to move up or down depending on who is available (…might be willing to drop out of the end of the 1st to a QB needy team if they already had a 1st rd pick)

    Browns: 2nd most cap space (wouldve had the most, but they were willing to buy a draft pick from the Texans when they traded for Osweilers salary cap hit) also have lots of early picks (IF they were smart they would just draft Barkley…but they are the Clowns so you know they arent) again would want a 1st and a 3rd in return (and with the 4th pick the Steelers could have a shot at Barkley..he could go to the Giants or the Colts, and if he is gone they have their choice of the Defensive players I already mentioned) *Colts and Giants could be others that are very interested in Bell (could even be a draft day trade where if Barkley is gone they become a bit more desperate for Bell and give even more in a trade, Giants might have an cap issue since they might not want to pay Bell and Beckham tons of $, would be similar scenario to the one I just mentioned of having the choice of a top defender…or even a trade out to a QB desperate team…now its getting too crazy with the what ifs)

    the Buccaneers and Lions could be pretty interested in Bell as well, they have QBs but really need to get a running game (the Seahawks would also be, but they have cap issues) Broncos and Packers could be as well, but I dont think they are likely to make a deal

    like I kinda mentioned in the other comment, another thing I would do with moving on from Bell would be to sign a FA RB, and at the top of my list would be Dion Lewis, fills the pass catching role that they lose with Bell, and gives them a guy they know can contribute (which isnt as for sure with Conner and a Rookie, but like I said before the trio would be a good backfield that they would have success with)

    heres my list of RB draft prospects

    Saquon Barkley Penn St (top 5 pick imo) *after Barkley its hard to rank/project exactly who/where the next guy will go but there are some talented guys for sure
    *possible later 1st/early 2nd rd picks
    Bryce Love Stanford
    Derrious Guice LSU
    Sony Michel Georgia
    *could still be available at the end of the 2nd, maybe even into the 3rd?
    Kerryon Johnson Auburn
    Nick Chubb GA
    Royce Freeman Oregon
    Ronald Jones USC
    *should be available at the end of the 3rd
    Rashaad Penny SD St
    Josh Adams ND
    Bo Scarborough Bama

    so thats a pretty decent group with about ten that the Steelers could have a realistic shot at drafting *depending on where they want to use a draft pick

  • LucasY59

    …they are about 3 mil under the cap…

    tagging Bell puts them more than 10 over, so they have to make some roster moves to be able to tag him

  • Big Joe

    Tag (whether Exclusive or Not Exclusive) but he’ll sit out camp and pre-season again creating another period early in season where he’s out of synch with offense and not completely in football shape. This will be the last tag though. Under normal circumstances I’d say that there would be little chance of a tag-related poach, but with several teams having between $70M – $100M in cap space and needing a quality RB, there may be some bites. Gonna come down to mileage and whether those teams care.

  • LucasY59

    IMO they should be focusing on winning while they still have Ben, so ideally they keep Bell (with the tag) and if they dont do that they need to get the pieces needed to help them win now so they cant draft a QB, with the loss of Shazier and the poor safety play they have too big of needs to use a luxury pick on a QB that sits until Ben retires

    only way they should go after a QB this draft is if Ben wont be with the team following this post season (which probably also means they can/should move on from Bell then as well…because getting rid of Bens cap his still barely makes room to pay Bell so IMO Lev is too expensive, unless its just for one more yr and one more shot at a ring)

    most likely they are going to have to go through a bad yr or two without Ben before they are able to get a franchise QB, and even that is if they get Lucky, could also take a decade or two

  • Jason

    It’s not necessarily about who is more important to the offense as much as how much the difference between AB and LB and who you replace them with. I think you could find a back closer to LB’s skill set easier than you could find a WR like AB. Look at Kamaras numbers as a rookie.

  • Brantley Stockton

    It’s a tough predicament to be in, for sure. I will agree with you on one thing – you’ll never find another WR like AB.

  • Jason

    Yeah. Believe me I’d love to keep them all but just not possible and keep in mind we have another pretty special player in Ju Ju thst will need paid before you know it.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I’m surprised this article didn’t include Bell’s recent comments about not being willing to play for the tag and that he would hold out and maybe just be done with football instead.

    Bell isn’t going to play in Pittsburgh next season, but I have to disagree with you when you say he shouldn’t have to play for less than his perceived self-value.

    Where are his numbers coming from?? No RB has made $17M before and there have been RBs who were as good as Bell. Currently, L. McCoy made around $8M last year and had 2-3 TDs and about 300 total yards less than Bell did.

    And the Steelers should pay more than TWICE THAT for Bell?!

    The only issue here is the off-perception Bell has that he should be paid for two positions.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Sorry, MM – I just saw Dave’s article in the Depot about this, so assuming you assumed ppl had read that. My bad.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think restructures are already pretty much a given for 2018. Especially with Brown’s and Tuitt’s fat new contracts. Ripe for dissection.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They will have to do some rearranging of the furniture, without question. But they can move enough around to where if they wanted to tag him, they could, while retaining Haden and McDonald. Restructures have always been their first approach and there’s some fresh meat on that bone after the Brown and Tuitt deals.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The Steelers are in a tight spot already for next season’s cap, a far cry from where they were this year. Late additions of Tuitt, Haden, McDonald, and Wilcox contracts added a ton of cap hits for 2018, so they may have as little as a few million to work with before anything even begins.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think somebody will pay him what he wants.

  • Arthur Branch

    I say transition tag him and if someone out bids us at least we get a first round pick in return. A lot of running backs would look good behind this Steelers O-line.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Man.. any team that pays a RB $17M likely doesn’t have a franchise QB and can’t be very good.

    But I’ll betcha a fictitious beer that he doesn’t get 17 from anybody.

    There are a lot of really great RBs in the league, especially of late.

    Would prefer to have him but not at that cost to the team at large (read: Flacco deal)

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’ll take the no-stakes bet. Remember, it only takes one team to buy in. I bet the Browns would give it to him. But would he play for them? The 49ers, Colts, Jets, Bucs, Texans, Vikings, Titans, and Redskins are all projected to have more than $50 million in cap space right now in addition to the Browns. 20 teams have more than $20 million. But of course if he’s tagged this whole conversation will be delayed a year. And honestly who knows where he will be physically then.