His situation is a confusing one. So first, let’s run through the facts. Here’s what we know about Bell’s holdout situation.
- Bell has yet to sign his franchise tag tender.
- If he does not report to the Steelers and does not sign his franchise tag tender by Nov. 13, he will not be allowed to play in the 2018 regular season or postseason.
- If he does not report and does not sign his tender, the Steelers can place either the franchise tag or the transition tag on Bell during the 2019 offseason.
- If he doesn’t not report, he will not accrue a season. That doesn’t impact Bell’s free agency status. An NFL player needs four accrued seasons to become an unrestricted free agent and Bell has five. His decision not to report, however, will impact his benefits with the NFL, as they are determined by accrued seasons.
- If he reports and signs his tender, the Steelers can place a franchise tag on him during the 2019 offseason, but as they have already used it twice, the price would be enormous. They can also place the transition tag on Bell.
What is the franchise tag and how does it pertain to Bell? This is a one-year pact with Bell that pays him either the average of the top five salaries at running back or 120 percent of Bell’s previous salary, whichever is greater. The player cannot negotiate the terms. The only choice Bell has is to sign it or not sign it. Bell chose the latter.
What is the transition tag and, again, how does it pertain to Bell? Under the terms of the transition tag, Bell would be due between $9 million and $10 million for 2019, according to ESPN. The other 31 teams can then extend offers to Bell. The transition tag will allow the Steelers the right to match whatever offer another team provides in free agency. The problem is that a team like the New York Jets, who have copious cap space, can front load a deal to ensure the Steelers, who do not have much space, cannot match the deal. The Steelers told Bell they intend to use the transition tag on him in 2019, according to ESPN. That doesn’t mean they intend to retain him.
Our take: If thinking rationally, the Steelers wouldn’t place the franchise tag on Bell for the third consecutive season. The cost would be enormous. More important, the Steelers would be crazy to undergo the same process and expect another result. The one reason they might tag Bell is to trade him, but even so, they probably wouldn’t get better than a third-round pick, and that’s surely what he’ll earn them in the compensatory pick formula. The Steelers placing the franchise tag on Bell again seems like an unlikely outcome.
The transition tag seems possible and even probable. But that doesn’t glue Bell to the Steelers. So long as a suitor comes along, Bell will probably depart.
So why would Bell report before Nov. 13?
He told ESPN on Oct. 1 that he wants to play football in 2018. That’s the only reason why he’d show — because he wants to play. Playing risks injury, which is part of why he held out. Playing could result in a decline in efficiency, which might cheapen his value in free agency. The only upside would be a potential Super Bowl run with Pittsburgh. He would return for his teammates and coaches despite the feeling that he’s not being properly compensated.
Bell may also run into a rough situation when he returns. There’s no guarantee the Steelers will want to incorporate him back into their offense with James Conner having so much success. Bell might end up doing a lot of watching from the sideline. Heck, Pittsburgh could bench Bell for the remainder of the season.
Ultimately, Bell’s situation is — and always has been — a tricky one. There are significant risk involved with returning and continuing his hold out. If he cares only about a payday in 2019, then sitting out for the entire season might be the shrewdest decision.