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Yes, Le’Veon Bell could stay away into the regular season — at a price

Mike Florio

As the clock ticks loudly toward the deadline for a long-term deal between the Steelers and running back Le'Veon Bell, it’s time for both sides to apply any and all pressure aimed at getting something done on the terms most favorable to them. From the player’s perspective, the ultimate leverage isn’t staying away until Labor Day; it’s staying away until the Tuesday after Week 10.

That’s the deadline for his arrival and acceptance of the franchise tender. Specifically, if Bell shows up before then, he gets $14.5 million (or $852,000 for each of the 17 weeks he’s with the team). If he shows up after then, he can’t; he’d be done for the year.

Adam Schefter of ESPN said this morning on SiriusXM NFL Radio that it’s “possible” Bell stays away until the middle of the year. Of course it’s possible. But the far more important question is whether it’s likely.

Bell would lose more than $8.5 million if he skips 10 regular-season games. In return, what would he get? Other than avoiding possible injury, he’d have no leverage because the Steelers wouldn’t be able sign him to a long-term deal until after the regular season ends.

Sure, the Steelers could give Bell more than $14.5 million on a one-year deal, or add other terms like incentive targets and a commitment not to use the franchise or transition tag in 2019. (The franchise tag would cost roughly $25 million next year, so that’s likely not happening anyway.) But the Steelers, who like to dictate terms to players and don’t like having players dictate terms to them, probably wouldn’t be inclined to do that.

Then there’s the potential fan reaction to Bell skipping games. Already sensitive about the perception in Pittsburgh that he’s a bad guy for simply trying to get the best possible deal, Bell would surely hate the way fans respond to a decision to skip games that count.

So, to summarize, Bell possibly will miss up to 10 regular-season weeks. And the Steelers possibly will rescind the franchise tag. And every other possible permutation possibly will happen. For now, all that matters is whether the two sides get a deal executed by 4:00 p.m. ET.