What Next for Le'Veon Bell? Breaking Down the Steelers RB Options

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Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field on January 14 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

One of the NFL's longest running sagas is finally over. Le'Veon Bell did not report to the Pittsburgh Steelers by 4 p.m. ET on November 13, preferring instead to extend his self-imposed absence.

As a result, Bell will not be eligible to play this year, becoming the first player to hold out for an entire season because of the franchise tag since Kansas Chiefs defensive tackle Dan Williams took the same route in 1998.

The standoff between the running back and the Steelers has been documented ad nauseam throughout the season. In March, Pittsburgh opted to franchise-tag Bell for the second consecutive year before the two parties failed to agree a long-term deal in the summer and Bell went AWOL.

Now the standoff has run its course, here are some of the questions that will have to be answered.

What will Bell do next?

Bell has achieved what he set out to achieve in the offseason. Despite reports he might return by Week 7 or Week 8, he has decided to prolong his holdout. By ensuring he will not play this season, he has minimized the risk of injuries and will be entering the offseason fully fit which is a major bonus for a player widely expected to become a free agent.

Will Bell get the salary he wants?

This whole charade began as Bell wanted to secure a lucrative long-term deal after Todd Gurley agreed a four-year extension worth $57 million with the Los Angeles Rams in July.

The highest per-year average for a running back, Gurley's deal also includes a $20 million signing bonus and $45 million guaranteed. A week before Gurley signed his extension, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport suggested the Steelers' offer to Bell was in the region of $70 million over five years, with over $30 million over a two-year deal. Crucially, only his signing bonus of over $10 million was guaranteed.

Sitting out this year might raise question over Bell's fitness but he will only be 27 next season and, more importantly, he will be injury free. A player who amassed 1,946 yards from scrimmage last year will not be short of offers.

What will the Steelers do?

Technically, Pittsburgh could opt to franchise-tag Bell for a third consecutive year. However, the Steelers are unlikely to do so as it would cost them the average of the NFL's top-five salaries for 2019—somewhere in the region of $25 million.

Pittsburgh could cut Bell loose and let him walk as a free agent or they could transition-tag him. At $14.5 million, the exact same amount the franchise would have had to pay to franchise tag the running back this season.

It would also allow the Steelers to retain his rights before trading him while simultaneously giving Bell the chance to talk to other teams.

What has the hold out cost Bell?

The three-time Pro Bowler had pulled a similar stunt last season but returned in time for preseason. By sitting out this season, he has forfeited $14.5 million or $855,529 per week. To put things into context, his backup, James Conner, will earn $578,000 for the whole season.

Bell is also well aware the move has cost him the support of some of his teammates and of the general public.

"A lot of people call me selfish, but I'm really not," he told ESPN last month.

"I'm doing it for guys behind me or guys who don't understand what's going on in the business of football.

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