Just when you thought the Le’Veon Bell-Pittsburgh Steelers drama was done.
You’d think that Bell holding out all season after being given a second franchise tag would be it for Bell and Pittsburgh. Bell would hit free agency, and that would be that. Maybe not.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, citing sources, said the Steelers could put the transition tag on Bell, likely with the desire to trade him and not keep him in 2019. It’s probably for the best that the Steelers wouldn’t expect Bell to play for them on a transition tag, because we saw how that went last season.
The transition tag would allow the Steelers to match any offer to Bell but if they use it, Dulac said it would likely be to set up a bit of a complicated deal.
Why would the Steelers give Le’Veon Bell the transition tag?
The mechanics of the transition tag, which is a cheaper option than the franchise tag, would go like this in regard to the Steelers’ reported plan: A team would be interested in Bell, the Steelers would sign Bell to a deal and then trade him right away. That all depends on Bell agreeing to play along with the sign-and-trade plan. It’s not like the Steelers and Bell are on good terms after last season.
The transition tag would allow Bell to negotiate with other teams. The Steelers could match any offer sheet Bell gets, and then things could get really crazy. The Steelers wouldn’t get any compensation if they don’t match that offer sheet. And as Dulac pointed out, the rules state the Steelers couldn’t trade Bell for at least one year to a team that gave him an offer sheet.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported there could be a dispute about the value of the transition tag. Bell could claim it should be $14.5 million, based on past franchise tags and those rules, but the Steelers could say it should be $9.5 million, the normal transition tag price. Fowler wrote that could lead to the NFLPA filing a grievance and an independent arbitrator getting involved. In case you thought this whole ordeal couldn’t get messier.
If the Steelers wanted to make this easy, they’d let Bell walk in free agency and collect a compensatory draft pick, which would likely be a third-rounder. If they transition tag Bell, presumably the Steelers believe they can get more than that by trading him. That might be risky, considering the market for big-money running backs already isn’t booming.
Steelers have until March 5 to decide
Of course, we heard similar stories about the Redskins giving another tag to Kirk Cousins last year at this time, and that didn’t come to pass because it was a risky and complicated idea. The Steelers might figure out that the potential trouble isn’t worth it. Teams have until March 5 to use the tag.
But perhaps the Steelers feel that a compensatory draft pick isn’t worth all the investment and time they’ve put into Bell and they want more. Maybe it will work out.
No matter what happens, it’s clear that the Bell-Steelers drama still has a little bit to go before we’re completely finished with it.
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