According to La Canfora, his conversations with NFL executives revealed that Bell could be in line for a more tepid response from teams than he’s hoping.
La Canfora says that some teams believe Bell will have a difficult time exceeding the $14.5 million he would have made under the 2019 franchise tag, much less the $21 million fully guaranteed the Steelers had on the table as part of a long-term deal this past July.
A salary cap expert tells La Canfora: “I think he can get $12M-$13M a year, maybe, with two years essentially guaranteed. But is that enough to keep the Steelers from matching?”
Interestingly enough, La Canfora mentions that some within the NFLPA actually advised Bell that they believed the best course of action was for him to sign the offers the Steelers had put forth. These sources are now skeptical that Bell will be able to secure $16 million-$17 million per year on a long-term deal with upwards of $40 million guaranteed.
Sources have told La Canfora that the Steelers have informed Bell of their plans to transition tag him next year.
The Jets, Colts, Eagles and Buccaneers have all be tossed out as speculative landing spots for Bell, but La Canfora adds that the Ravens could be in the market for an elite back given that they could be headed for a potential rebuild around QB Lamar Jackson.
A GM who spoke with La Canfora doubts Bell gets the same contract as the Rams gave Todd Gurley.
“I’m just telling you, that’s not where we’re going to spend our money,” the GM said. “We have other needs and I don’t see that guy as a fit in our locker room. It’s not worth the risk. He’s not going to get what (Todd) Gurley got, and I think he’s going to be disappointed in his guarantee.”
La Canfora says that there are a number of concerns with Bell including his past suspension and injury history, the way Steelers players turned on him this season, how well Pittsburgh’s offense has performed without him, and the overall depreciation of the running back market in recent years.
Depending on the offers Bell receives from other teams, La Canfora says it’s not out of the question that the Steelers would match offers within reason for him.
Bell, 26, is a former second-round pick of the Steelers back in 2013. He played out the final year of his four-year, $4,120,600 rookie contract that included a $1,376,800 signing bonus and was in position to be one of the best players in the free agent market when he was franchised.
The Steelers used the franchise tag on Bell again this offseason, which means he stands to make $14.5 million fully guaranteed for the 2018 season before testing the open market as an unrestricted free agent next year.
In 2017, Bell has appeared in 15 games for the Steelers and rushed for 1, 291yards on 321 carries (4 YPC) to go along with 85 receptions for 655 yards receiving and 11 total touchdowns. Pro Football Focus had him rated as the No. 9 running back out of 58 qualifying players.
We have him featured in our Top 25 – 2019 NFL Free Agents list.