Le'Veon Bell nearly returned to the Steelers when Pittsburgh offered the All-Pro running back a five-year, $70 million deal, he told Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas.
Bell was seeking a contract worth $15 million per year from the Steelers last offseason. Instead, Pittsburgh offered short, and Bell went on to eventually hold out for the entire 2018 campaign instead of signing the deal. He also turned down a chance to play under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season.
Instead, [Bell] played the 2017 season on the one-year franchise tag. Then, he says, the day after a playoff loss to the Jaguars in January ’18, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin pulled him into an office alone. The team would tag him for a second consecutive season, this time at $14.5 million, but Bell says they told him that day they’d get a long-term deal done. When the Steelers eventually made an opening bid well below what Bell was looking for, he told Bakari to counter by asking for $17 million per season. In the end, Bell hoped, they’d end up at his $15 million benchmark.
Pittsburgh’s final offer, Bell says, fell short: five years, $70 million—$14 million per, with the only fully guaranteed money being a $10 million signing bonus. (The Steelers have a policy of not offering future guarantees in veteran deals.) But it also included $33 million paid out over the first two seasons, and Pittsburgh has never cut a player one year into a contract that lucrative.
“I was so close,” Bell admits now. “Like, I almost [signed] it.”
Bell later explained that he wanted to have a salary that rivaled that of receivers, hoping to set up younger star running backs for larger paydays.