The NFL regular season starts Thursday night, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still without the services of star running back Le’Veon Bell, who continues his holdout this week. While the holdout itself isn’t a surprise — Bell is an elite offensive weapon and the Steelers have refused to offer him a long term contract, instead constantly using the franchise tag to limit him to a series of one-year deals — it is a bit of a surprise that Bell hasn’t shown up by now.
Last year, the same scenario happened, expect Bell showed up about a week before the Steeler’s first game, allowing him enough practice time to play in Week 1. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. According to general manager Kevin Colbert, the team expected him to report to practice on Monday. He did not. It’s now Wednesday afternoon, and there’s still no sight of Bell.
Meetings are at 9 am in Pittsburgh and #Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is not present at the facility, I’m told. Wednesday of game week.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 5, 2018
#Steelers have a team meeting at 9am. One of Le’Veon Bell’s teammates just messaged me: no sign of him yet.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 5, 2018
Unless the Steelers show a remarkable bit of leniency, there’s no way Bell will be playing in Sunday’s game against the Browns. It’s just not enough time to get familiar with the playbook. One of two things will happen next:
1. Bell shows up later this week, even as late as Saturday, and signs his franchise tender. The team will give him a physical and he will be eligible to get paid for Week 1 — worth $855,000 — even if he doesn’t play. The season likely resumes as normal for Bell and the Steelers.
2. He continues to sit out completely. The Steelers will almost certainly fine him his entire paycheck, and Bell will not play until he secures a long-term contract (which won’t be with the Steelers, if that wasn’t already obvious) via free agency next summer or a trade deal, similar to Khalil Mack’s recent trade to Chicago and subsequent major deal.
Bell, still just 26-years-old, might actually be making the smartest decision by sitting out the entire season. He doesn’t risk getting any sort of major injury that would drastically reduce his value, while foregoing his $14.5 million salary in exchange for a potential nine-figure deal in the off-season.