Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert spoke to the media on Wednesday. And at his press conference, he announced the team would not be using the franchise or transition tag on running back Le’Veon Bell.
Without the tag, Bell becomes an unrestricted free agent and will be able to sign with any team beginning on March 13. By not using the transition tag, the Steelers lose the right of first refusal but do greatly improve their odds of landing a compensatory draft pick once Bell signs elsewhere.
In Bell’s absence, James Conner emerged as the team’s feature back. This gives Pittsburgh the freedom to finally divest itself of Bell and end what has been a tumultuous relationship over the past two seasons. Over the past couple weeks, sources in the know had floated to various outlets the possibility of the team using the transition tag for Bell. A third franchise tag always seemed like an extremely unlikely possibility, but it was also an option.
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The theory behind using the transition tag, which would have given the Steelers the right to match any offer sheet, wasn’t that the Steelers wanted Bell back. Instead, they could work out a deal with an interested team, signing Bell (which would require his cooperation) and then trading him to that team. If Bell signed an offer sheet that Pittsburgh couldn’t match, the Steelers wouldn’t get any draft pick compensation. And it’s unclear how much more than the expected third-round compensatory pick the Steelers could have gotten in a trade.
Instead, the Steelers are just going to let it go. After Bell held out all last season, this seems like the best move for everyone.
Many teams aren’t paying running backs top dollar anymore. The weird Todd Gurley playoffs story, when the Rams say they just decided to use C.J. Anderson about half the time, can’t help the market for expensive running backs. But, it only takes one team to believe Bell is worth an enormous contract. Bell is a great player, arguably the NFL’s most talented running back, and he got to rest his legs all last season while he sat out on his second franchise tag.
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