The Steelers aren’t guaranteed to place the franchise tag on all-pro running back, Le’Veon Bell.
An offseason during which the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to focus on defense rapidly transformed into one dominated by their attempt to keep their star offensive player under contract.
Le’Veon Bell is an all-pro running back. He’s a dual-threat tailback that can catch balls out of the backfield and run for 1,000 yards in a season. Bell is a running back offensive coordinators build their offenses around. That can only be done if said running back is signed to a contract.
The Steelers spent last year trying to sign Bell. To no avail, the Michigan State-product missed training camp and showed up as the season began. Despite missing the first game of the year, Bell compiled 1,291 yards on the ground, accompanied by nine rushing touchdowns. He also hauled in 85 catches and 655 receiving yards. The storyline remained the same. Bell signed a franchise tag and didn’t sign the extension the Steelers wanted him to.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2018 and Bell missed training camp again. He still won’t sign an extension. The signs are pointing toward Bell leaving the team after the 2018-19 season concludes. Mike Florio, of ProFootballTalk.com, talked about status and said, “So, not ready to rule it out. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. But, keep an eye on the possibility that at some point over the next week, the Steelers decide that [James] Conner is their guy. They’re going to save nearly $14 million, and they’re going to move forward.”
If the Steelers decide to franchise tag Bell, he would make $14.54 million this season, per Spotrac.com. That’s over 10-times what backup running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels will make this season. Conner’s cap hit comes in at $754,572. Samuels, the Steelers’ fifth-round draft pick in 2018, is set to make $544,516. Combined, they’ll account for nearly $1.3 million.
As the 2018 preseason winds down, Conner and Samuels are making their case to get quality playing time when the regular season begins. In the Steelers’ preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the University of Pitt alum showed what he’s capable of against the first-team defense.
The following week, in their first preseason home game, against the Tennessee Titans, Samuels received plenty of playing time. He accumulated 41 rushing yards on 11 carries. Samuels proved he’s also a dual-threat running back, with 36 receiving yards on four catches.
None of this means Samuels and Conner are capable of handling the workload Bell accumulates in a season. Bell has 582 rushing attempts in the last two seasons. Neither of those were full 16-game campaigns. That doesn’t even include his touches in the passing game. Bell is arguably the league’s best talent at running back and one that helped bring relevance back to the running back position in the NFL.
To some, the $17 million salary Bell is asking for is justified. However, critics point out that two running backs, who make a little over $1 million, can handle the workload with more time and reps. In an offseason where the defense should’ve been the primary focus, the $14 million Bell would make could go into a great defender such as free agent Navarro Bowman.
The scenario of Bell signing a consecutive franchise tag is very likely. Head coach Mike Tomlin isn’t answering any more questions on his talented running back, so the football world will wait until the Steelers announce a decision. Like Florio said, the Steelers rescinding the franchise tag isn’t out of the realm of possibility. A multi-man backfield has worked in the recent past. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots are excellent examples of just that.