The Pittsburgh Steelers have quite a few big decisions to make early in the offseason and one of them revolves around All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and whether or not they should place the franchise tag on him a second consecutive year. While Bell is still arguably one of the top running backs in the NFL, it’s still relatively easy to come up with solid reasons as to why the Steelers should forgo placing the franchise tag on him once again and thus let him leave via free agency.
Very high 2018 salary/cap charge – If you want to look at Bell only from a salary and cap standpoint, you’ll see that placing the franchise tag on him this offseason would come with a $14.54 million price tag and that would be his cap charge as well if no new deal could be worked out prior to the middle of July. In case you haven’t already figured it out by now, the Steelers are already hurting for salary cap space this offseason and making room to accommodate $14.54 million will likely put stress on future years because a few contract restructures might be needed just to accommodate Bell’s tag amount. In short, is Bell really worth $14.54 million for one season, which is currently $6.29 million more than the next highest paid running back in the NFL makes?
No guarantee long-term deal will follow tag– Even if the Steelers do wind up tagging Bell early in the offseason, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term contract extension prior to the middle of July. In fact, Bell’s unlikely to sign a tag until after the preseason is over just as he did last year. That would likely result in Bell staying away from the team all offfesason, which would be a repeat of last year. Bell reportedly turned down $30 million over two years and $42 million over three years last July. What’s he going to want this offseason after being issued a $14.54 million tag, $17-$18 million per season? He’s talented, but not that talented.
Drop in play by play production – While Bell did finish third in the NFL in rushing yards in 2017 and second in combined yards, his overall production was really a result of volume more so than quality. Not only did Bell’s yards per carry average dip nearly a full yard in one season, his average yards per reception decreased a half a yard from 2016 as well. Bell’s successful run rate was way down in 2017 and his rate of runs that produced zero or lost yardage was up. To make matters worse, he even lost two fumbles in 2017. Is this a result of the rest of the NFL finally catching up with his patient running style, decline in ability, poor offensive line play, poor play calling, or all of the above? Whatever the root of the problem is, the Steelers couldn’t fix it over the course of the entire 2017 season.
Heavy miles in 2017 – Not only did Bell touch the football a league-high 406 times during the 2017 regular season, he also led all NFL running backs in total offensive snaps played. That’s a ton of mileage for even a 25 year old running back. The list of NFL running backs who have been able to touch the football 380 or more times in back-to-back seasons is relatively short and that’s something Bell will likely be asked to do if he remains in Pittsburgh in 2018. His injury history aside, the odds are against him playing in all 16 games in 2018 if his workload remains the same level as it was in 2017.
Prima donna attitude – Bell claims that staying in Pittsburgh is his primary goal during the offseason. With that said, he will do so only if his financial demands are met, according to him, and has even threatened to retire or sit out the entire 2018 season if tagged again. From social media comments, to previous suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, to reportedly being tardy back-to-back days prior to the team’s playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bell’s attitude and actions stink overall right now.
Instant return in 2019 if allowed to walk – Not placing the franchise tag on Bell and thus letting him test free agency would obviously result in him signing elsewhere. With that said, the new contract he would ultimately sign with whichever team would easily result in the Steelers receiving a third-round compensatory selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.