The Steelers’ sudden willingness to trade running back Le'Veon Bell doesn’t mean a trade will happen. For Bell, the question becomes whether a new team, like the Jets, would be willing to offer a better salary than the $855,000 per week that Bell currently is earning in Pittsburgh. If Bell ultimately won’t sign a one-year deal with the Steelers, there’s nothing that the Steelers can trade, to the Jets or anyone else.
For the Steelers, the question becomes what they’d want, from the Jets or anyone else. And the return would have to outweigh the consideration that the Steelers could receive under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, as modified by a key side letter with the NFL Players Association.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, if the Steelers rescind the franchise tender, Bell’s departure (if/when he signs with a new team) would count toward the Steelers’ overall free-agency losses in 2018 when calculating compensatory draft picks fore 2019, even though the deadline for getting such credit has otherwise passed. Thus, if Bell’s departure leads, loosely speaking, to a third-round compensatory pick for the Steelers, the Steelers necessarily would need something better than that to justify a trade — unless one of the goals of a trade would be, for example, to send him to an NFC team or, at a minimum, a non-AFC North team.
It makes sense to consider the potential consequences of rescinding the franchise tender because the sudden willingness of the Steelers to consider a trade of Bell suggests that the Steelers are ready to move on from him. If they can’t trade him on terms acceptable both to the team and to Bell, then the next step would be to simply withdraw the tender, knowing that they’d get something extra in the 2019 draft once he signs with another team.
UPDATE 10:35 p.m. ET: Although the Steelers would be eligible for compensatory draft pick compensation, Bell’s departure would put their net free agency gains and losses at zero, given that they signed safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Jon Bostic and lost tackle Chris Hubbard. Per a source with extensive knowledge of the compensatory draft pick formula, the next gains and losses of zero would keep the Steelers from getting any compensatory draft picks.