The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-2-1 as they head into their Week 9 AFC North matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, and statistically have one of the best offenses in the league this season. That’s despite not having All-Pro back Le’Veon Bell.
Coach Mike Tomlin is seemingly tired of answering questions about Bell. He gave a blunt new assessment on Sunday morning before kickoff.
‘We need volunteers, not hostages’
ESPN’s Dianna Russini had a chat with Tomlin in the hallways of M&T Bank Stadium, and asked if the Steelers need Bell despite the growing positive impact of second-year back James Conner.
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) November 4, 2018
“You know, we haven’t spent a lot of time focused on it, because it’s not within our control,” Tomlin said. “Those decisions are Le’Veon’s. We need volunteers, not hostages, so we’re focused on the guys that are here, that are working, and James is part of that mix.”
Conner, a third-round pick last year who saw limited time backing up Bell, has three straight 100-yard rushing games and four on the season; he is averaging 4.7 yards per carry on 127 chances, with nine rushing touchdowns. He also has 31 catches for 323 yards.
Another contract squabble coming?
Bell, who has until Nov. 13, or the beginning of Week 11, to show up, play and gain an accrued season, might have another battle still to come with the Steelers.
Bell has left $855,000 on the table for every week he was absent, meaning that he’s now up to $7.7 million forfeited for this season.
ESPN reported Sunday that Bell could lose more next season: league sources told Adam Schefter that Pittsburgh can place the transition tag on Bell for the 2019 season, which would allow the Steelers to match any offer Bell received from another team.
If he played under the transition tag with Pittsburgh, Bell’s salary would be somewhere between $9 million to $10 million, or around $5 million less than the $14.54 million he would have received had he played this entire season on the franchise tag.
That’s a more appealing financial option for the Steelers; franchising Bell again next year would mean a 20 percent increase over this year’s tag amount, or $17.45 million. If Pittsburgh went that route, it could limit Bell’s ability to sign elsewhere.
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