So the theory that the Steelers have leaked the idea that Le'Veon Bell doesn’t have to show up this year to force his way to free agency next year definitely holds water.
NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew, who is represented by Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, recently acknowledged that Bakari didn’t know that Bell possibly will be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender in 2019, even if Bell doesn’t play at all in 2019.
“So what happened was that once that came out, that they’re now digging and reading the trying to understand the language, because there’s a lot of language in the CBA, especially for this particular instance,” Jones-Drew said. “So they’re going back now to really sit down and figure out [the language].”
Jones-Drew also suggested that the relevant language in the “new” CBA (i.e., the one passed seven years ago) has changed. But it hasn’t.
From Article 10, Section 15(c) of the 2011 CBA: “If any Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable Tender must be made and any 120% Tender shall be measured from the Player’s Prior Year Salary.”
From Article XX, Section 17(a) of the 2006 CBA: “If a Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable tender must be made and any 120% tender shall be measured from the Player’s prior year salary.”
The unresolved question is this: If Bell, franchise-tagged a second time this year, will be treated as being franchise-tagged a second time or a third time in 2019, if he doesn’t play in 2018? And the language quoted above doesn’t provide a conclusive answer.
Which makes the team’s willingness to acknowledge that a third tag in 2019 counts as the third tag under the CBA (making him eligible for the quarterback tender) even if he doesn’t show up this year seem even more bizarre. The league and its teams never tip their hand on issues like this, and they never (I guess I can no longer say “never”) admit preemptively that the league’s position would lose, if push came to shove.
Here, who knows whether the team/league or the player/union would prevail? The fact that the team/league is leaking to league-employed reporters that Bell can sit out the full year and still be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender suggests that the team simply doesn’t want him to show up this year.