Just four days separate the Pittsburgh Steelers from the start of the 2018 regular season and running back Le’Veon Bell is still a no-show.
That’s according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who reported that the Steelers had team meetings on Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. ET.
Bell has been holding out for the entire offseason as he looks for a new contract extension. The Steelers are hoping he signs his $14.5 million franchise tag that will ensure he gets on the field in black and gold this year.
It’s not like the two sides haven’t had contract talks. In fact, the Steelers offered Bell a massive five-year, $70 million contract earlier this summer, which averages to about $14 million per season. However, the 26-year-old is looking for a deal which pays him closer to $17 million per season, per NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.
Regardless of what happens this year, Bell isn’t expected to hang around in Pittsburgh. His agent, Adisa Bakari, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that this “will likely be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler.”
Right now, it looks like Bell is content with sitting out this season rather than signing any sort of franchise tag. He already told ESPN that back in January, even threatening retirement if he’s given a second-consecutive franchise tag.
It would be a massive loss for the Steelers this season as they look to contend for an AFC title. Bell is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the game, amassing over 1,800 yards from scrimmage in three of the past four seasons.
He’s also become one of the most durable, leading the league with 321 rush attempts and 85 receptions last year. Those 406 touches were the most by any non-quarterback in the league in 2017, 60 more than second-place LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills.
Over the past decade, only DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Chris Johnson in 2009 have had more touches in a single season.
If there is no hope of Bell signing a deal and re-signing with the team next offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, it might be time for the Steelers to start seriously consider trading him, even if it comes in the form of a sign-and-trade.
Who would be interested in Le’Veon Bell?
The New York Jets provide an intriguing option for Bell, even though he tweeted back in February that it would take a lot more than a $60 million contract to “run for the Jets.”
However, the Jets are a much-different-looking team right now with plenty of promise. Sam Darnold is now the quarterback of the future with a set of receivers in Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor that could put up some solid numbers.
While Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell look to hold the running back position down by committee in 2018, Bell would suddenly catapult the Jets from promising little team to serious AFC East contender.
The Jets are expected to have approximately $90 million in cap space, so there would be no issues in paying Bell. They just need to find a way to get him to New York, whether it’s inquiring about a trade or waiting things out until free agency next year.