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Pittsburgh Steelers First-Team All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell will not attending the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) this offseason. Bell is expected to hold out until he gets a long-term deal, which he advocated for the last offseason too. Bell’s short holdout last year led to a slow start to his 2017 campaign, and that could be the case again in 2018, or worse. Bell might not even play unless the Steelers give in and offer him the lucrative long-term deal he deserves.
Bell is worth the money and has earned a big contract. He’s easily good for 1,200 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards per year and is only 26, giving him at least three to four more prime seasons. The Steelers are hesitant and might not give Bell the deal is because he’s only the third best player on their team.
While Bell would be the best player on many NFL teams, he just happens to operate in an offense that includes future Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. If the Steelers have to choose who to pay, Bell is the third option.
Signing Bell to a long-term contract, with a lot of guarantees, does pose risks. In the past, Bell was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, meaning he’d face a larger suspension if found guilty of violating the rule again. Bell has also faced injury issues throughout his career, most notably when he missed more than half of the 2015 NFL season. In a league that is now clearly prioritizing the passing game, even a great pass catching back like Bell will struggle to get long, loaded contracts.
The Steelers have their own salary issues. The team has to keep three Pro Bowl offensive linemen, Bell, Brown, and many other skilled players paid and happy. They only have so much cap space to spread around, and signing Bell would hamper their abilities to re-sign other players in the future.
The Steelers already applied the franchise tag to Bell, just like they did last offseason, but Bell has yet to sign the tag in hopes of still getting that contract. The Steelers don’t have a starting running back in line to replace Bell should he decide to holdout into the regular season. With their Super Bowl window closing as Roethlisbergewnr gets older, Pittsburgh needs to focus, get the deal done, and bring Bell onboard before the season starts. They’ll need him to challenge the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots for supremacy in the AFC.
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