Despite everything that went on last year with running back Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season in a contract dispute, the Pittsburgh Steelers still had the option of tagging him for next season.
Instead of the franchise tag, the team could have applied the transition tag on Bell, which would have allowed the Steelers to match any offer sheet Bell signed with another team.
But the team said Wednesday it will not take that route and instead will let Bell enter unrestricted free agency next month.
#Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said the team will NOT use a tag on Le’Veon Bell.
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) February 20, 2019
“Le’Veon is still a great player, but we can’t afford to use any type of tag with other needs that we have,” GM Kevin Colbert said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent come the beginning of the new league year.”
The idea behind tagging Bell would have been to trade him to whichever team signed him to an offer sheet. The Steelers presumably could have gotten better compensation from that trade than what they’ll get in the form of a compensation draft pick come 2020.
The compensation pick will be as early as the third round, while trading Bell could have netted a first- or second-round pick in this year’s draft instead of next.
There’s also the fact that Bell would have had to sign his transition tag in order to be traded, and that was unlikely considering he didn’t sign the franchise tag.
Now that they have decided to move on from Bell, Pittsburgh can turn its focus to the Antonio Brown situation, which took another turn this week.
On Tuesday, the star wide receiver posted a social media video in which he referred to himself as “Mr. Big Chest” and said he’s only interested in going to a team that offers him guaranteed money.
— ESPN (@espn) February 19, 2019
“If your squad want to win and your squad want a hungry wide receiver who’s the best in the whole world, someone hit my phone,” he said. “Tell them I ain’t doing no unguarantees. I ain’t even gonna play myself no more for this NFL.”
Brown has two years and nearly $24 million remaining on his contract, including a $2.5 million roster bonus due on March 17.
The Steelers want to move him before that bonus, but they also want the best deal instead of the best deal before that date.
ESPN proposed an unlikely scenario that would be petty but is interesting nonetheless.
Instead of trading Brown, the Steelers could simply cut him after the draft.
Teams then would have used most of their cap space on the first waves of free agency, leaving less money available for late cuts like Brown.
He would be forced to sign a below-market contract with little or no guaranteed money.
However, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be able to get any compensation for Brown, so no matter how unhappy the team is with its former star, it probably won’t go that route.
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