Posted on January 11, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Pittsburgh Steelers Le'Veon Bell

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Just a few days before their playoff game against the Jaguars, the last thing the Pittsburgh Steelers need is a distraction. But that’s exactly what they have following Le’Veon Bell’s comments Thursday about his future with the team. Bell said he would sit out the 2018 season and possibly retire from the NFL if he has to play the season under the franchise tag. Bell held out at the start of training camp this season because he was unhappy about having to play under the franchise tag. Under the franchise tag, he made $12.1 million this season.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I would definitely consider it,” Bell said of sitting out next season if he can’t sign a long-term deal. He added that he’d “probably be done” playing football if he sat out all of 2018.

Bell is once again set to hit free agency this summer. He was slated to hit the open market last year before the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him, fearful he would sign elsewhere. Pittsburgh reportedly offered him a long-term deal in July that would have paid him roughly $30 million over the first two years of the deal. But Bell turned it down, believing he was worth more.

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“Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them,” Bell said Thursday. “I’m not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at.”

It’s hard to argue with Bell’s logic. There’s no denying that he’s one of the top skill position players in the NFL. He carried the ball 321 times this season on top of 85 receptions. Even with Antonio Brown having an MVP-caliber season, one could argue that Bell is Pittsburgh’s most important offensive player.

Bell insists that it’s not about making money but rather feeling valued. Of course, he’ll turn 26 next month and plays a position with a notoriously short lifespan. That’s particularly true for a player like Bell who has averaged over 300 touches per year during his first five seasons in the league. This could be Bell’s only chance to hit the open market in his prime and land a lucrative contract. He doesn’t want that opportunity to pass him by.

“I don’t necessarily care about the money aspect of it,” explains Bell. I just want to be valued where I’m at. If I am playing this game, I want to set standards for all the other running backs behind me, like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, guys like that. I’m a guy they can kind of look at. I feel I can do that. I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m going to do it.”

If there’s a silver lining for the Steelers, it’s that Bell doesn’t appear eager to leave Pittsburgh. He says he wants to finish his career with the Steelers. But he doesn’t have any intention of staying if he doesn’t get the kind of long-term deal he feels he deserves. That leaves it up to the Steelers to avoid the franchise tag and offer Bell a contract he can’t refuse. It also means if Pittsburgh loses to the Jaguars on Sunday’s, it could be Bell’s last. It’s an unlikely scenario, but Bell is keeping his options open, as he should.

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