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For Steelers, no easy answers in Le'Veon Bell negotiations

Beaver County Times, Pa. — Chris Bradford Beaver County Times, Pa.

July 17--PITTSBURGH -- If, indeed, a deal is to get done for Le'Veon Bell, it always figured to get done in the 11th hour. For the Steelers and their star running back, that hour means sometime before 4 p.m. on Monday.

If no deal is reached, Bell will play out the 2017 season on the franchise tag and receive a healthy $12.1 million for his services next season, pretty good compensation for a wide receiver, let alone a running back in today's NFL.

Bell, of course, would like the security of a long-term contract extension that would keep him in Pittsburgh through the prime, if not the remainder, of his career. In fact, that's exactly what Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert both said on Jan. 21 and Feb. 16, respectively.

There is no reason to believe that the Steelers won't try to get Bell's signature on a new contract before Monday, but some things have changed.

Most notably, Rooney and Colbert both made those comments BEFORE Bell announced in March that he was undergoing surgery to repair a torn groin that all but sidelined him in Pittsburgh's loss to New England in the AFC Championship. There is a significant difference between an injury that forces a player to miss a game, even a playoff game, and an injury that requires surgery.

Bell's latest procedure kept him from participating in spring practice but, judging by a recent social media post of him playing basketball, he should be ready for training camp 11 days from now.

The Steelers seem confident that the off-field issues that have plagued Bell are in the past, but the bigger issue is the fact that the NFL's best all-around player at a most physically taxing position, is also among its most injury-prone.

That is why it should hardly be a slam dunk that the Steelers extend Bell now.

From an organization standpoint, perhaps the most prudent move is to let Bell play out this season on the franchise tag and, if he can stay on the field, go from there.

Will Bell be happy about this? Hardly. Understandably, Bell would like to be paid as the best at his position as Antonio Brown is at his. Bell's only recourse would be to withhold his services.

A holdout is fairly significant leverage if the Steelers are the Super Bowl contender they appear to be. Last season, Bell was the driving force behind the Steelers' nine-game winning streak that concluded in New England. Though they went 3-1 without Bell in the regular-season last year, the Steelers also had DeAngelo Williams in reserve. At least currently there is no DeAngelo Williams on the roster. The Steelers have veteran journeyman Knile Davis and rookie James Conner, who missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury.

That said, with $12 million-plus to be had this season, you can expect Bell to report to Latrobe on July 27 deal or no deal.

There is no good guys and bad guys in this negotiation, no easy answers.

It's not really about the money, guaranteed in a signing bonus, or otherwise. According to NFLPA figures, the Steelers have $16,175,763 in cap space and would get even more relief by extending Bell now and allowing them to work on new deals for Stephon Tuitt or Alejandro Villanueva. It's not about the term. It's not about the suspensions.

With Bell, it's always about the injuries.


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