The risk of injury and apparently being used in a similar fashion as the past two seasons is a likely reason that running back Le’Veon Bell hasn’t yet reported to the Pittsburgh Steelers, his agent indicated Tuesday morning.
Adisa Bakari, speaking to SiriusXM NFL Radio, didn’t directly say when Bell’s absence from the team would end, but he indicated that an anticipated heavy workload is the reason his client is staying away.
Asked what is the plan for Bell reporting to the team, Bakari responded by answering the question with a question.
“You’re Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin. You have possibly a once-in-a-generation player for one more season. What would your plan be?” Bakari said.
The host responded that he would use Bell as much as possible to help the Steelers win a Super Bowl.
“You can read in between those lines,” Bakari said.
Bakari was asked whether that meant Bell would stay away from the team through Week 10 when he must report in order to have his season qualify toward free agency.
“When we find out,” Bakari said. “I think Mike Tomlin said it best yesterday. He’ll get there when he gets there, and we’ll address those issues when he arrives.”
Bell hasn’t signed his $14.544 million franchise-tag tender. If he doesn’t join the team by 4 p.m. Saturday, he would forfeit his first weekly paycheck of $855,000. Even if Bell does report, the Steelers could request a two-week roster exemption for Bell, which would enable them not to pay him until he is activated to the 53-man roster.
In 15 games last season, Bell led the NFL with 406 touches. He touched the ball 60 times more than the No. 2-ranked player. Bell played under a $12.12 million franchise tag in 2017, and it increased by 120 percent when the Steelers applied it for a second time this past offseason.
Meanwhile, Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, who was a couple of years away from free agency, signed a four-year contract that has $45 million guaranteed, including a $21 million signing bonus. Bell reportedly turned down a deal worth $70 million that didn’t have nearly as much guaranteed compensation. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. signed record contracts, and Khalil Mack was able to force a trade and get a multi-year deal from the Chicago Bears rather than report to the Oakland Raiders.
“The franchise tag no longer works,” Bakari said.
Bakari said he doesn’t blame the Steelers for wanting to get the maximum out of Bell in his anticipated final season with the franchise.
“But we represent people. I represent Le’Veon, his family, his future concerns” he said. “I’ll be candid. If my clients win Super Bowls and go into the Hall of Fame, that’s great, that’s phenomenal. I’ll be the biggest cheerleader. But my No. 1 concern is to make sure my clients leave their sport financially secure.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.