PITTSBURGH — Tag, he’s it.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made it official Tuesday, slapping the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell for the second straight season, according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport.
The move means the Steelers have committed $14.544 million to a one-year deal to the back who is arguably their best offensive weapon. They have until July 16 to try to reach a long-term deal with Bell, who has expressed his frustration with being tagged and last year held out on signing it until a week before the start of the regular season.
Bell has stated that $14.5 million number is the minimum he’d play for in any long-term deal. In January, he told ESPN he’d consider retirement before playing another season on the franchise tag.
He reiterated that stance to ESPN on Monday.
“I’m playing for strictly my value to the team,” he told ESPN. “That’s what I’m asking. I don’t think I should settle for anything less than what I’m valued at.”
ESPN reports that Bell, 26, last year turned down a three-year, $42 million offer from the Steelers — a deal, he said, that even his mother wanted him to sign.
Both sides are negotiating in earnest, Bell told ESPN.
But, he said, the Steelers view his value through the prism of the running back market, where Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman is the highest-paid with a contract averaging $8.25 million per year.
Bell points out that he averages 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game as a rusher and receiver — more than any player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Freeman averages just under 97 yards per game.
“They are using it as me being compared to another running back or my status or what Devonta Freeman has. I can’t control what he’s done on the field,” Bell told ESPN. “I only can control what I think I’m worth and what I’ve done on the field. That’s where the problem lies. ‘Freeman’s making this, we can’t give you this.’ … To me, that’s not fair. I didn’t sign Devonta’s deal. That’s the position I’m in. I want to make my own decision.”