Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison has a fascinating approach for how running back Le'Veon Bell should handle his holdout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In an appearance on FS1's Undisputed on Tuesday, Harrison explained how Bell could set himself up for free agency for after the season and make sure he stayed healthy this year by returning to the team, but faking injuries to avoid playing in any games.
Harrison said the Steelers can't trade Bell because they placed him on the franchise tag, so he would not be able to get a long-term deal with any team until next offseason even if he was moved. In a July appearance on Undisputed, Harrison said he thought the only reason Pittsburgh didn't get a long-term deal with Bell in place was because it simply did not have enough money because of other contracts it previously invested in.
On Tuesday, Harrison suggested that if he were Bell, he would return to the Steelers by Nov. 13 so he would still get credit for a year of service for 2018 so he could become a free agent after the season. Harrison added that Bell should participate in practice so the media and other teams can see just how he looks on the field in some context, but then when it gets to Saturday, Bell should tell the team he is unable to play on Sunday. That way, he can still try to save some value going into free agency by showing what skills he still has while also greatly reducing the risk of injury.
Harrison also mentioned that there will be "a lot of friction" in the locker room if Bell returns because of what some of his Steelers teammates said about him when the holdout first started to creep into the regular season. He said, "instead of making more fuss than what it is," Pittsburgh should find the best way out for the two-time All-Pro running back.
After holding out for all of the preseason, Bell has missed the Steelers' first three games as they started the season 1-1-1. He has still not signed his $14.5 million franchise tender and has already forfeited $2.6 million by missing the first three games and will continue to lose another $853,000 for every other contest he holds out of.
Pittsburgh is reportedly listening to trade offers after removing Bell from the official team depth chart. With Bell away from the team, James Conner has filled in as the starter.
Bell has spent his entire career with the Steelers since they drafted him in the second round in 2013 out of Michigan State. In five seasons he has rushed the ball 1,229 times for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns and caught 312 passes for 2,660 yards and seven scores.
Harrison retired from the league in April. He spent the first 10 years of his career with Pittsburgh, and then played one season with the Bengals. He came back to the Steelers for three more full seasons, but in his 14th year with the squad last season, he asked to be released because of a decrease in playing time. He played the remainder of the year with the Patriots.