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Predicting whether the Steelers lock up Le’Veon Bell long-term or use franchise tag

The Pittsburgh Steelers are facing a tough decision with their All-Pro running back heading into the 2017-2018 season.

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason the Pittsburgh Steelers have their hands full. Not only do they have to try to appease Antonio Brown with a new contract, but they also have to figure out how to handle Le’Veon Bell’s pending free agency.

Keeping Bell is not the discussion, but how to handle the new contract certainly is debatable.

There are some who think Bell should be given a long-term contract to ensure his services won’t be used anywhere but in the Steel City. However, with this comes a certain amount of hesitation.

Bell has missed time at the beginning of the last two seasons due to suspension. Another slip up of the NFL’s substance abuse program will have Bell suspended for at least 4 games, possibly longer. On top of his off-field issues, Bell has ended his last three seasons with injury. Two knee injuries in 2014 and 2015, and a groin injury which could require surgery this offseason kept him out of the AFC Championship game.

The other option for the Steelers is to use the one-year franchise tag on Bell. It would keep him in Pittsburgh, on a hefty $12 million dollar salary, but would be on a “show me” contract situation.

So, what will the Steelers do? ESPN recently predicted this very scenario. See what they had to say:

The Steelers will sign Le'Veon Bell to a contract extension.

This negotiation will be calculated, however. First, the Steelers will place the franchise tag on their star running back. Then, they will wait for the Adrian Peterson situation to shake out in Minnesota. Peterson's exorbitant contract of $14 million per year on average is nearly $6 million higher than any other tailback. But that contract will void if the Vikings don't pick up his expensive 2017 option. This sets the stage for the Steelers to make Bell the highest-paid running back at a more reasonable price. Bell will re-sign with the team that stuck with him through two drug-related suspensions. -- Jeremy Fowler

Hate to say it, but in this instance I can’t agree more with Fowler and ESPN. This is exactly how I see the situation going down.

The Steelers, not about to tempt suitors to try and lure Bell out of Pittsburgh, will slap the Pro Bowl running back with the franchise tag, but just to buy them some more time. They will then try to negotiate a 3-4 year contract with Bell, hopefully with several incentives involved to keep him on the straight and narrow off the field.

How do you think this situation goes down? Give him a long-term deal early? Or use the franchise tag?