In the middle of the team's push for the Super Bowl star Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell says he might be retiring next season if the Steelers franchise him.
Le'Veon Bell may be in the midst of a playoff push, but he's already thinking about next season.
While speaking with reporters before practice on Thursday, Bell made it clear that he has no interest in the Steelers using their franchise tag on him for a second consecutive year, saying that he would even consider sitting out the year or even retirement if it happens.
"I hope it doesn't come to that, but I would definitely consider it," he said, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
The franchise tag allows teams to keep a player, who would otherwise become a free agent, on a one-year deal. While the franchise tag comes with a salary among the highest for a player playing that position, it also comes with risk for the player since there is no long-term security against injury. The Steelers used their franchise tag on Bell this year, leading him to sit out for the entire 2017 preseason.
If tagged for a second consecutive year, Bell might decline to play — he knows what he's worth, and sounds unwilling to settle for less.
"Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything," Bell said. "I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I'm not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I'm not getting what I feel I'm valued at."
The franchise tag puts Bell in a poor position because it prevents him from cashing in on the most valuable seasons of his career. As one of the best running backs in the league, Bell could secure a lucrative long-term contract that was front-loaded with cash that would allow him to make his worth while he's still a dominant force in the NFL.
"It will eventually come down to me playing on the tag or not," Bell said. "They tag me again, it will be me [saying], 'OK, do I want to play on the tag or do I not want to play on the tag?' That's what it comes down to. If I was a free agent and they let me go, be a free agent, then yeah, I'm going to go explore free agency, test the market."
While it's no surprise that Bell is looking to maximize his earning potential, the timing of the news is quite odd. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the middle of a playoff race, with their first postseason game set for this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
From Bell's position, it's something of a power move, especially if he plays well through the postseason. But it's likely the Steelers' front officeis not at all pleased with the timing. That said, after the news started to make the rounds, Bell was quick to clarify that despite his comments about the 2018 season, he was focused on one thing — helping the Steelers to another Super Bowl victory.
Bell will get the chance to prove it on Sunday, when the Steelers host the Jaguars with a trip to the AFC Championship on the line.