The clock on Le’Veon Bell’s contract status begins Wednesday, when the Pittsburgh Steelers can issue him the franchise tag in order to guarantee he remains with them for at least one year.
The Steelers and other NFL teams have until March 1 to use the franchise tag on one player. The Steelers are expected to give Bell the franchise tag during that two-week period. If they did not, he would become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. March 9, the start of free agency in the NFL.
The one-year contract under the franchise designation for Bell is estimated to be slightly more than $12 million, once the salary cap for 2017 is determined. The cap is estimated to come in at $168 million per team.
The Steelers could sign Bell to a long-term deal instead but are expected to give him the franchise tag and then try to negotiate a long-term contract that would replace it.
They did that previously with LaMarr Woodley, signing him long-term after designating him as the franchise player. Others who received the franchise tags from the Steelers were Max Starks and Jason Worilds.
Bell set the Steelers postseason rushing record twice this year, running for 167 yards in their first playoff game against Miami and then breaking that with 170 yards the following week in Kansas City.
He left the AFC championship early in New England with a groin injury after just six carries. He was scheduled to seek a third opinion from a specialist about the injury. One doctor told him rest would cure it, and another told him he should have surgery.
It was the third straight year in which Bell either did not participate or did not finish the postseason because of an injury.
Bell rushed for 1,268 yards (4.9 average) and caught 75 passes for another 616 yards last season. In 2016, he became the only player in NFL history to average 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game. He played in 12 games after serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Coach Mike Tomlin rested him and others in the meaningless regular-season finale against Cleveland.
Bell’s groin injury also is the subject of an NFL investigation as to why Tomlin never listed him with an injury on the team’s injury report. He missed several practices, but the reason was given as non-injury related. Bell later said his groin was injured in the first playoff game vs. Miami and that it bothered him before the next game in Kansas City.
In a similar case, the NFL reportedly issued the Seattle Seahawks a warning on Tuesday for not listing a knee injury to cornerback Richard Sherman this past season. The reports indicated no further punishment would be given the Seahawks.
Notes: Wide receiver Sammie Coates revealed via Twitter that he had groin surgery, a heretofore injury that had not been known publicly. … Linebacker Anthony Chickillo became the latest exclusive rights free agent to sign a one-year contract with the team. An exclusive rights player has no options to sign elsewhere if the team offers him a one-year, minimum-wage deal. … The Steelers announced the signing of six more free agents: cornerback Devonte Johnson, linebackers Akil Blount and Jason Fanaika, offensive linemen Kyle Friend and Mike Matthews and running back Trey Williams. Akil is the son of Steelers legend Mel Blount.