PITTSBURGH (CBS SPORTS) — Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not agree to a long-term contract with the team Friday, and he could reportedly sit out at least half the upcoming season.
The deadline for the Steelers and Bell to reach a long-term contract expired at 4 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert issued the following statement:
“Even though we could not reach a long-term contract agreement with Le’Veon Bell, we are excited he will be with the team in 2018. We worked very hard to find common ground, but we were unable to accomplish that prior to today’s deadline. Le’Veon will play this season under the exclusive franchise tag designation. After the 2018 season is completed, we again will attempt to work out a long-term contract with Le’Veon in the hope that he will continue his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Bell tweeted a short time later, saying it was always his desire to retire as a Steeler:
“To all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler … Both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times… To the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let you down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date…”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari says, “his intention was to retire as a Steeler. But now that there’s no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler,” Bakari said. “It became clear the Steelers wanted to pay the position, not the player.”
Earlier in the day CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that negotiations had been amicable and productive. As JLC noted, however, that was also the case at this time last year.
The Steelers are making what they believe is every effort to do just that for Bell, and remain willing to pay him more than any running back has made in this league for quite some time. But then again, as noted, that’s the same mindset they had a year ago when the Pro Bowler backed out just before the deadline and opted not to sign the contract. Talks have remained amicable and productive, I’m told, and there is certainly some hope of getting a deal done by 4 p.m. ET, but also trepidation as well that the sides might not be able to bridge their gaps.
In the past Bell had addressed the ongoing situation publicly, most often through his rap lyrics, suggesting he deserved a deal worth $16-$17M per season, and he has not shied away from his intent to set a new benchmark in terms of running-back compensation and best Adrian Peterson’s deal with Minnesota from what must now be considered a bygone time. The Steelers extended themselves far beyond what other front offices thought they would offer to Bell a year ago, and far beyond their own internal expectations at the start of the process, so it is impossible to predict exactly how the final hours of these talks will go this time around.
In the event the two sides cannot reach an agreement, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bell is considering sitting out for as much as half of the 2018 season in order to save his body from the wear and tear of another 400-touch season. (Bell led the NFL with 321 carries last season, and added an NFL running back-high 85 catches as well.)