When Jeremy Fowler of ESPN posted a Tweet on Monday evening suggesting that Le’Veon Bell intended reporting to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7, his initial assertion that the information had come from an unnamed company source made the claim feel somewhat speculative. In reality, the ESPN source was himself after he had spoken to Bell in Florida by telephone earlier in the day.
I just spoke to Le'Veon Bell, who got into everything -- the decision, how Earl Thomas injury confirmed he made the right one, why he doesn't expect to be traded and why he's holding out hope he'll be a Steeler long-term. https://t.co/6xT995Eafi— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) October 1, 2018
While it would be fair to say the Steelers’ star running back hasn’t always been a man of his word, this latest report from Fowler at least provides some credible new insights about the running back’s plans for 2018 and beyond.
Glossing over the parts of the interview where Bell humorously suggests that “he is in prime physical condition and could play football “tomorrow” if he needed”, one of the more notable parts of this conversation involved his remarks about what Pittsburgh told him about their plans for him in 2019. As he revealed to Fowler.
“The Steelers told Bell during franchise tag negotiations that they would transition tag him in 2019, which would set the stage for Bell to negotiate with other teams while Pittsburgh holds his rights.”
While Fowler asserts this figure should be more than $17 million, it could actually be closer to $11.2 million if Bell reported by Week 7 — the cost of the transition tag being based on 120% of the running back’s salary this year. Missing six weeks of the season would actually hurt Bell when the transition tag is calculated, as per the rules of the CBA, and barring arbitration to reassert the maximum value Fowler states, the cost could be much lower than some expect.
Regardless of Pittsburgh’s intentions, Bell is still convinced there’s a team out there who will be prepared to pay him what he’s looking for, citing teams like the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles as clubs who might be interested in him.
“I know the guaranteed money will be there (in March). If a team wanted to, they could definitely do what they needed to do to make me happy and satisfied.”
Despite a number of media outlets stating that the Steelers had only offered him $10 million in guarantees in their last contract offer, Bell acknowledged to Fowler that it was actually $17 million, but far short of the number he was looking for. Considering the guarantees given to Todd Gurley and David Johnson, the former Michigan State product is not willing to budge from his position.
“It’s costing me some fans. A lot of people call me selfish but I’m really not. I’m doing it for guys behind me or guys who don’t understand what’s going on in the business of football. The 22 years I’ve been playing football, I’ve always brought value. I don’t think the Steelers valued me as much.”
Those assuming Bell has no intention of returning to Pittsburgh in 2019 might be surprised to hear he still believes that will happen.
“I could be naïve or hopeful, but at the end of the day I feel like that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t think they really want me gone. That could be me being prideful. But I’m still holding out hope.”
Given the way this saga has played out, I wonder how many fans are hoping for the same outcome. If he could play inside linebacker equally well, I would certainly be all in.