Le'Veon Bell, who held out the first ten weeks of the NFL season, decided to let his 2018 playing eligibility slide away and is now locked out for the rest of the year, the Pittsburgh Steelers confirmed Tuesday. The superstar running back, who had until 4 PM EST on Tuesday to report to the team, will now aim for a new, long-term deal in the offseason when he hopes to become an unrestricted free agent.
Earlier this year, the All-Pro back decided to hold out for a better contract than the Steelers' $70 million offer, but ultimately missed out on his entire $14.5 million franchise tag by missing the deadline. He had previously lost out on $8.5 million of that $14.5 million, but guaranteed Tuesday that the remaining $6 million will no longer go to him.
Second-year player James Conner has stepped up in Bell's absence, ranking third in the NFL in both touchdowns and rushing yards among all running backs entering Week 11.
Bell missing the season allows him to preserve the long-term possibility of a 2019 contract. His decision marks a recent trend in player holdouts that straddle multiple leagues—including the NBA with players like Jimmy Butler. But the gamble risks the loss of an immediate contract, like in the case of Bell.
Bell also held out on 2017 training camp for similar reasons, but this year ratcheted up his ante by sitting out of games. The Steelers attempted to find a good deal for him before the Oct. 30 trade deadline, but since Bell didn't sign on to anything, nothing came about.
If the Steelers decided to retain Bell with a franchise tag again in 2019, they would have to pay out more, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
The Steelers could franchise tag Bell for a third time in 2019, but he would be tagged at the quarterback salary number, not the lower number he was tagged at this year, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
NFL.com's Austin Knoblauch wrote Tuesday that it's unlikely the Steelers would tag him a third time because the quarterback-salary would pay him more than $20 million for one season.
Here's more from NFL.com on the options the Steelers will have:
The Steelers have two other options -- let Bell walk into free agency when the new league year begins in March or place him under the transition tag. The transition tag is a one-year tender that would allow Bell to negotiate contract offers from other teams. The Steelers would have the right to match any offer sheet Bell signs from another team under the transition tag but would receive no compensation if they don't. There is a potential dispute looming from the NFLPA over what the transition tag number should be for Bell.
Meanwhile, Bell's holdout rubbed his teammates the wrong way, with his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger going on record on Thursday to say, "I'm not going to comment on someone who's not in this locker room right now."
Head coach Mike Tomlin today commented, per ESPN:
When asked what happens if Bell never returns to the Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon, "So be it."
It seems there's at least one team in the NFL that won't be eager to pick him up.