Three players will play on the franchise tag after Monday’s deadline for signing a long-term deal passed.
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tender long ago and will again play this season like nothing is wrong, even though his situation will be one of the NFL’s biggest stories next offseason. Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson will also play on the tag for a second straight season, collect a small fortune and then can hit free agency next season.
Those cases are clear cut, at least for the next few months. It’s not as tidy with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
Bell will play for the $12.1 million tag after turning down a long-term deal. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Bell could have signed a long-term deal for more than $12 million per season, with $30 million in first 2 years and $42 million over three years. But if the money beyond this season isn’t guaranteed, Bell wouldn’t have gained a lot by signing. It sounds like he turned down a lot, but realistically he’s probably best off gambling that nothing happens to diminish his value in 2017 and then see what happens next offseason.
Bell didn’t sound thrilled about the Steelers’ offer.
“It’s a little frustrating, but it’s a business,” Bell told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “I’m not in a rush to sign for something I’m not valued at if I feel I’m worth more than what they are offering me.”
Bell also said he didn’t want to take a deal that was below value for a running back, since the entire position is being devalued.
“Our value isn’t where it needs to be,” Bell told ESPN.
Like Cousins and Johnson, the real fireworks with Bell will happen after the season. Unlike Cousins and Johnson, another franchise tag next year for Bell seems like a solid possibility. If Bell is not happy with this year’s tag, he surely wouldn’t be happy with a second one.
And already there are questions about when Bell will sign his franchise tender and come to training camp. It seems like a long shot that he’d be there for the entire camp. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he signed right before the regular season. If you want to be optimistic, that would save some wear and tear on his legs. But we’ve seen plenty of players struggle or get hurt after long holdouts. It’s clearly not ideal if Bell holds out until early September (though it would seem hard to believe he’d hold out into the regular season and give up checks on that $12.1 million salary).
Either way, it seems very possible Bell won’t be happy this season, judging by his emo tweet after Monday’s deadline passed.
I guess I just gotta get better…
— Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) July 17, 2017
The Steelers aren’t necessarily wrong. Bell has a long injury history, and off-field issues have led to suspensions. Long-term deals for running backs rarely work out. No matter how good Bell is now, he’s far from guaranteed to be that effective over the length of a long extension. From a business standpoint, everything the Steelers have done makes sense.
Still, it seems this situation could get worse before it gets better. Even if this season goes smoothly, there’s a lot of potential issues next offseason. There’s also the possibility of the Steelers losing perhaps the NFL’s best running back, who is just 25 years old.
It’s not surprising the situation between Bell and the Steelers got to this point. But it will be a story all year starting when the Steelers report to camp, possibly without one of their best players on the practice field.
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