The threat of the quickly approaching regular season set off a whirlwind week for contract signings. Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack all got fresh deals (and a trade, in Mack’s case). Just one player still holding out has yet to report: Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
For the second straight year, Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on Bell, and the running back cannot return to the team until he signs the $14.54 million tender. The deadline for teams signing franchise-tagged players to an extension passed on July 16, so the Steelers cannot negotiate a deal with Bell until after the season is over, but the franchise can agree to pay him more than his tender.
Bell has stayed away from all Pittsburgh team activities since the July 16 deadline, making this the second consecutive summer that the running back has skipped training camp and preseason games to send a message to the Steelers front office. Last season, Bell reported nine days before the Steelers Week 1 game. There are currently five days until the Steelers first game, and as of publish, he had not yet reported to sign his franchise tender.
On Friday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Bell had told some teammates that he would be returning to the team on Labor Day. That same day, Bell tweeted, “don’t believe the fake news, I never said anything to no one...” The Steelers even issued a statement calling out his absence, probably designed to put some pressure on Bell to return to the team. “We are disappointed Le’Veon Bell has not signed his franchise tender and rejoined his teammates,” GM Kevin Colbert said Monday morning in a team-issued statement. “Coach [Mike] Tomlin and the coaching staff will continue to focus on preparing the players on our roster for our regular season opener on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.”
What are the chances Bell returns this week ahead of Pittsburgh’s first game? In July, Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari was asked if Bell would take the same approach as last season—not participating in offseason work but showing up to play in Week 1— and Bakari said, “Barring something exceptional, that is correct.”
Pittsburgh practices again on Wednesday, which is typically the most important day in game-week preparations because teams install the majority of the game plan. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey told reporters Monday that he expects Bell back on Wednesday, but Pouncey said he doesn’t have any direct knowledge from Bell himself—he just knows that Bell is a competitive person.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk explains several possible outcomes if Bell continues to holdout. Bell might be angling for an off-the-record understanding from the Steelers that he will get a massive deal in January, or for the Steelers to become so frustrated that they rescind his franchise tender and he hits the open market now, since teams were willing to spring for Mack just a week before the season. Or Bell could try to preserve himself for the open market next offseason and come back as late as possible to accrue a contract year and play as little as he can this season.
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1. The NFL confirmed to The Washington Post that LeSean McCoy is still eligible to play week one. He is not on the commisioner's exempt list at this time.
2. Doug Pederson finally caved and confirmed Nick Foles will be the Eagles Thursday night starter.
3. E:60’s piece on Kansas City Chiefs running back coach Deland McCullough’s search for his birth parents will make you gasp out loud. The shock-value is unbelievable.
4. Colin Kaepernick is the face of a powerful new Nike “Just Do It” ad.
5. As expected, Todd Bowles announced Sam Darnold will be the Jets starting quarterback, making Darnold the youngest player to start the opening game since the 1970 merger.
6. Three of the Giants six captains are new to the team this season. If that's not a sign of how bad the team chemistry last season, I don't know what is.
The Bears gave up two first rounds picks for Khalil Mack. Since 2001, only two of Chicago's first round pick have made a Pro Bowl: Tommie Harris and Kyle Long. When you look at it that way, maybe those picks are better spent this way.
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