Steelers place franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell
PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stressed earlier this month one of the team's biggest goals during the offseason was to make wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell vital parts of the organization ''for life.''
Done and well, on its way to being done.
The Steelers signed Brown to a new five-year contract on Monday, following through on a promise the club made last summer to take care of the perennial All-Pro as soon as he had just one season left on the six-year deal he signed in 2012.
The team also placed an exclusive rights franchise tag on Bell, opening the negotiating window to reach a long-term agreement with him by the start of training camp.
Brown's new contract runs through 2021 and will pay him over $72 million and makes him one of the highest paid non-quarterbacks in the league. Brown celebrated by posting a picture of himself with agent Drew Rosenhaus then later added another one with his signature phrase "Business is Boomin' .''
The 28-year-old Brown is one of just two players in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes in four consecutive seasons, including 106 receptions for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Steelers in 2016 as the team won the AFC North and made it all the way to the AFC championship game before falling to New England.
The new contract more than doubles the six-year, $42 million contract Brown signed in 2012, one that turned into one of the better bargains in the NFL when Brown morphed from sixth-round flyer to star.
His high profile hasn't come without the occasional pitfall. He drew a strong rebuke from coach Mike Tomlin after livestreaming from the locker room following Pittsburgh's playoff victory over Kansas City, a violation of the league's social media policy.
Brown apologized for the misstep. Colbert and team president Art Rooney II have no concerns about Brown's occasional eccentricities becoming an issue going forward.
Rooney called them ''little annoyances, with the emphasis on little'' shortly after the AFC title game loss to New England.
The same goes for Bell, who could have become a free agent next month, but instead will work with the team on a new contract before the July 15 cutoff after the team used the exclusive rights franchise tag.
The 25-year-old led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage last season and became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game.
If Pittsburgh can't sign Bell to a new deal by the middle of July, he will make the average salary of the top five running backs in the league in 2017.
While Bell has been productive when available, he's been suspended twice for violating the league's substance abuse policy and was unable to finish Pittsburgh's final game of the season in each of the past three years because of injuries.
Colbert said earlier this month the club is not worried about Bell's injury history or maturity as he enters his prime.
''We have no reservations about Le'Veon,'' Colbert said. ''Not his durability or his ability. He's grown, I think, tremendously off the field. And I think, I hope, he continues to grow in those areas. But there's no hesitation to having him be with us, hopefully, for his whole career.''
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