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Experts predict the Steelers will franchise tag Le’Veon Bell, at least in the short term

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to have a difficult decision on their hands...

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The ongoing discourse between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell has be interesting, to say the least. Pittsburgh openly stating they want to give Bell a long-term contract, and Bell discussing retirement as an option if the was given the franchise tag again for a second year.

The two parties reportedly set a February 20th deadline to reach a new deal, and this is an important date considering it is the first day NFL organizations can place the tag on players.

It is clear the two parties want to reach a long-term contract, but doing so is easier said than done. Bell wants to be paid as a top running back, and a number two receiver. After reportedly turning down a very lucrative, and fair, contract prior to the 2017 season, it forced the Steelers to pay him $12.1 million for one year of his service. Bell held out of all preseason activities, and he followed that up with a good season, staying healthy for the duration.

Will the Steelers finally be able to lock up Bell for more than just one year? Field Yates at ESPN gave his insight into the situation, playing GM for all 32 teams:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Running back Le’Veon Bell

While Bell at one point suggested he’d be disappointed if the Steelers franchised him again, it’s the starting point for Pittsburgh (with a price tag just north of $14.5 million). One factor in the decision on Bell is a team’s philosophy on paying running backs on long-term deals, as some believe the position is more replaceable than others. But letting Bell -- perhaps the league’s most complete back -- walk away would set back a high-octane offense.

Verdict: Use the tag on Bell, but aim for a long-term deal.

The prediction of using the franchise tag on Bell is far from a unique perspective, but what happens after this is what will truly be interesting. While the two sides want to get a deal done before ever being considered for the exclusive rights franchise tag, agreeing to terms on a long-term contract will be the true sticking point in the scenario.

If Pittsburgh uses the franchise tag to give them more time, but aren’t able to come to terms on a new contract, again, the team doesn’t have a ton of options. Yes, they could try to trade Bell, or they could call his bluff on his “retirement” talk and have him play the 2018-2019 season earning around $14.5 million dollars. Either way, a large portion of the salary cap will be devoted to Bell’s large salary.

The Steelers have already started freeing up some cap space, and most are assuming that is to make a serious run at giving Bell a contract which keeps him in Pittsburgh for several years; however, if 2017 taught us anything, it is talk is just talk, and getting a deal done will be more difficult than anyone is currently predicting.