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ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler helps decipher fact vs. fiction in the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell saga

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have put contract negotiations on hold, and we are left wondering what is actually going on.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

News of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell in contract talks, or whatever you call it, have been ongoing and, at times, downright arduous. Whether it is the Steelers stating they are putting a pause on contract negotiations, or Bell tweeting he is a “villain”, it is difficult to decipher what is exactly going on between the two parties.

While there is no real news to speak of on this front, it is worth acknowledging when someone with inside knowledge of the situation helps shine a light on what is, and what isn’t, in this strange saga between an All-Pro player and the team who drafted him.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who has spoken to Bell several times throughout this process, recently outlined what is fact vs. what is fiction in this long and drawn out story.

Check out what Fowler had to say, and if you want to read more of his comments, you can check out the full article right HERE.

That Bell wants $17 million a year: Here’s what I know -- when I asked Bell what his per-year magic number was, he said he wouldn’t take anything less than $14.5 million annually (his franchise number) over the course of a long-term deal. That’s not a direct number but can be a guide here. He very well might want $17 million, but he probably wouldn’t have said that if $15 million wouldn’t get it done.

That Bell and the Steelers remain far apart: While they aren’t particularly close, they aren’t that far off, either. The Steelers have increased their offer from last year, which Bell said fell at an average of $13.3 million annually. But Bell asked for more before the March 6 deadline, forcing the Steelers to reassess.

The Steelers have to decide if they want to enter that $15 million stratosphere. But it’s not like the sides are operating with a $5 million gap. They are already fairly close to Bell’s sweet spot.

That there’s tension on both sides: Not sure if tension is the right word, but both parties would acknowledge this hasn’t gone as planned, which creates unrest. The Steelers would prefer players not divulge negotiations through the media. They also understand Bell can say what he wants; he’s not under contract. The fact they haven’t leaked any negative press about him over the past few months can be perceived as a good sign.

That Bell is a villain: Maybe he is a villain to a faction of the Steelers’ fan base. He shouldn’t be. It’s his right to maximize his earning power at a time when his skill set will never be more valuable.

That it’s all about the guarantees: Not exactly. Bell acknowledges the Steelers only do contracts a certain way, with the signing bonus the one true guarantee. In return, they typically don’t cut their good players, assuming the play stays respectable. So, the guarantees are crucial in that the signing bonus must be hefty, but Bell knows the chances of him playing three or more years under a deal are pretty good, so per-year average is just as crucial.

That the Steelers are looking for Bell’s replacement in the draft: This is more significant than some other speculation and is at least partly true.

The Steelers are prepared to protect themselves, since Bell negotiations have proved difficult. The team’s interest in LSU’s Derrius Guice, for example, is genuine. His interview with the team at the combine was described to me as all hands on deck.

If the team nabs a running back during the first two days of the draft, they are officially ready for anything.

Consider this your daily update on the Bell situation, but also realize the truth, and not speculation, Fowler speaks with. This should mean something after he has spoken with Bell and has a better understanding of what Bell is truly looking for, compared to others who are merely guessing.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, as well as others, surrounding the black-and-gold as they plow through the offseason.