Pittsburgh Steelers

No Le’Veon Bell, no problem for James Conner and the Steelers

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is not expected to report to the team and will be ineligible to play all year as his time in Pittsburgh is almost over.

Le’Veon Bell is not expected to report in time by Tuesday’s deadline to be eligible to play this season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. With Bell reportedly not showing up, the Steelers won’t have to pay him and they won’t have to deal with this saga as they make a push for the AFC North title and another trip to the postseason.

The Steelers will avoid having to deal with the possibility of Bell’s return impacting a team that has won five straight and rallied to play well without him.

Pittsburgh’s offense has operated just fine without Bell as James Conner has emerged as one of the best feature backs in the NFL in Bell’s absence. He ranks among the top five rushing leaders with 771 yards and he’s already surpassed Bell’s rushing touchdown total from last year with 10 compared to Bell’s nine.

And he’s doing it all while making a fraction of what Bell would have made on his franchise tender as he’s playing on the rookie contract he signed when he came out of Pitt. Bell’s holdout has led to one of the better stories in the NFL this season as Conner is playing at a Pro Bowl level and the offense trusts him in the rushing and passing game. He’s effectively replaced Bell who showed just how replaceable he is with the seamless transition to Conner.

Bell will be a free agent in March as it’s unlikely the Steelers will use the transition tag that allows other teams to negotiate with him for $14.54 million on a one-year deal. Applying the franchise tag for the third time would pay the average of the top five quarterback salaries ($25 million) and the Steelers won’t go that route, and they surely won’t match an offer sheet from another team under the transition tag.

Assuming he doesn’t report by Tuesday’s deadline, Bell will enter free agency healthy and in line for a contract that could give him enough guaranteed money to recoup the money he lost by sitting out this year.

This much is clear, Bell’s time in Pittsburgh is up and Conner’s playing like he’ll be in the Steel City for years to come.

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