PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell is recovering from groin surgery and is not under contract.
Those two reasons — particularly the second — could keep Bell out of Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp, which begins Tuesday.
He has the option to be with his team, and no doubt the Steelers wouldn’t mind having him around. But NFLPA records confirm Bell has not signed his franchise tender. That’s not unusual for players looking for long-term deals before the July 15 deadline for franchised players. It also absolves him from attending. He can’t be fined since he’s not technically a member of the Steelers.
Having the luxury of staying away is the only negotiating ploy a franchise player has. Players who sign the tender might give the team less incentive to work out a long-term deal, which the Steelers have made efforts to do.
This isn’t a mini-holdout situation. ESPN reported in May that Bell visited the team facility to meet with officials, and the consensus was Bell looked good coming off the groin injury that worsened in the AFC title game and eventually required surgery.
It’s more a natural course of business for franchise-tagged players. The Steelers don’t need to see Bell on the field until training camp. They just need to see him healthy.
Bell is on record that he’d play on the $12.1 million franchise tag if necessary. Neither side wants that, even if a long-term deal worth $12 million per year is hefty for a running back.
Bell, despite his suspensions, is worth well above LeSean McCoy’s $8 million per year. His ability as a rusher and receiver very well might get him above $10 million annually over four to five years.
Five others to watch during minicamp:
Alejandro Villanueva: He’s also without a contract after opting not to sign his exclusive rights tender. He’s looking for a long-term deal. Will he show up?
T.J. Watt: He looked athletic in OTAs. Now let’s see how he does with pads on.
Sammie Coates: Finally healthy, expect Coates to come with an edge in camp. He must. The receiver room is too crowded.
Coty Sensabaugh: Can the free-agent acquisition provide much-needed depth at corner?
Vince Williams: New starting inside linebacker can take command of the position.