As of this writing, Steelers superstar running back Le'Veon Bell has yet to sign a long-term deal with the team.
Depends on the deal, of course.
If the two sides can't reach an agreement, Pittsburgh will almost be forced to tag Bell, which would guarantee him over $14 million in 2018, an action that, believe it or not, Bell has said could force him to sit out the season or even retire.
There is the pretty far-fetched third option of simply letting Bell become an unrestricted free agent, an action that would give the Steelers much more room under their salary cap.
This move would, theoretically, give Pittsburgh the financial flexibility (to borrow a term from the Pittsburgh Pirates) to improve the team in many areas, especially on the defensive side of the football, where an inside linebacker and a safety are said to be at the top of the shopping list, a list that would presumably be longer and include more items, once free agency kicks off on March 14.
The Steelers would also be granted a compensatory draft pick—perhaps in the third round—if they part ways with Bell.
You can see both sides of the argument regarding Bell.
There's the let him walk theory.
There is already so much money tied up on the offensive side of the football, and keeping Bell could indeed limit the Steelers prospects of signing anyone of significance to improve the defense, save for a Lawrence Timmons on the cheap.
There's, of course, the keep the generational talent theory.
Obviously, this used to be the knee-jerk reaction to any superstar approaching free agency, especially if he was a generational talent, which Bell appears to be.
Whether or not Bell is a generational talent remains to be seen, of course. But the reality is Bell has been an integral part of Pittsburgh's offense since he became a pro back in 2013.
It's obviously no coincidence the offense seems to perform better when it's funneled through Bell, with his unique ability to be a workhorse on the ground and a match-up problem as a receiving threat downfield—a back far more evolved than that of just an outlet.
I'm leaning on the keep the generational talent side of the argument, but then I grew up not wanting my superstars to leave because they were and have always been so hard to replace.
After all, if being a superstar was so easy, anyone could do it.
Today, we as fans are forced to think about things like salary caps and the ramifications of keeping those superstars perhaps years beyond their usefulness—and at a high price, to boot. And NFL free agency, despite the ironic restrictions limiting the annual talent pool thanks to clauses like the franchise tag (something that's been a big part of the divide between Bell and the Steelers) has become so popular in recent years, wanting to see what's behind door number two often becomes more desirable than retaining your own generational superstar.
And in Bell, still only 26, we're talking about a generational superstar who, if he were to remain a Steeler for life, could easily smash every team rushing record.
I would like to see that—Bell grow into a true veteran and, hopefully, a team leader, one whose name becomes as synonymous with Pittsburgh sports lore as Franco and The Bus—much more than I would a compensatory third round pick.
But that's becoming less and less of a reality in modern sports, as teams are often forced to make tough decisions, and fans have no choice but to accept it—like Jerry Seinfeld once said, you're basically rooting for laundry these days.
If it were to happen, Bell and the team parting ways either this spring or even next, I won't be excited about the prospect of some unknown free agent (one not deemed worthy enough for his team to restrict with the ironic franchise tag) coming to town.
That unknown free agent never totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in one season. He never broke the Steelers record for yards in a playoff game—twice—in back-to-back postseason victories.
And I darn sure wouldn't be excited about acquiring any compensatory draft pick.
What I would be is sad.
That's how it's always been when a superstar player leaves your team.