The Pittsburgh Steelers reported for camp Wednesday, but Le’Veon Bell was not among those checking in. The two-time Pro Bowl running back is upset with his contract situation after receiving the franchise tag earlier in the year and is officially holding out from training camp.
Many holdouts have the goal of negotiating a new contract, but the Steelers can’t give Bell a new deal after failing to reach a long-term deal prior to the July 17 deadline. No matter how long Bell sits out of practice, it’s just a show of displeasure and can’t result in the contract he believes he deserves.
However, there will be no ramifications for Bell missing time. Because he hasn’t yet signed his franchise tender, he isn’t under contract and can’t be punished for sitting out.
While he told ESPN that he plans to play a full 16-game regular season, Bell can report to training camp whenever he wants and that means the Steelers may not see him until mid-to-late August, according to Adam Schefter.
Bell, 25, averaged 105.7 rushing yards and 51.3 receiving yards per game last season after starting the year with a three-game suspension. That offseason was also hampered by recovery from a knee injury that ended his 2015 season, so it’s probably a safe bet that Bell won’t need many (or any) preseason reps to get back into top form.
Last year, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry faced the same situation and didn’t sign his franchise tender until Aug. 28 — two weeks before the team’s regular-season opener. It didn’t negatively affect Berry’s play, and he earned First-Team All-Pro honors anyway before signing a six-year, $78 million deal in February.
Missing training camp time inevitably draws criticism, though. Even Bell’s teammate Antonio Brown called out the running back for not signing his franchise tender yet:
Regardless of the length or outcome of Bell’s holdout, he’ll make $12.12 million fully guaranteed on a one-year deal whenever he decides to sign his tender.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette is the only running back who will make more in 2017 thanks to a front-loaded deal that gives the rookie about $18.35 million this year. But Fournette’s four-year, $27.15 million deal averages less than $7 million per year.
Bell is hoping for much more and told NFL Network he wants to be paid like the team’s No. 1 running back and No. 2 wide receiver. That probably won’t happen, but Bell does have a strong chance of getting a deal that resets the market for running backs. He just won’t have a chance at that contract until after the 2017 season.
For now, the Steelers are getting training camp started without Bell and can’t do anything except wait for him to show up when he feels ready to do so.