The standoff between Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers has worsened as the franchise opted to remove the running back from their depth chart.
The 26-year-old did not feature in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and his name was nowhere to be seen in the depth chart update the Steelers issued on Tuesday, with the franchise listing James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley as their running backs.
Bell’s name appears below the depth charts and it comes with a note indicating he has not signed his “franchise tender.”
The Steelers did not offer an explanation as to why Bell was left off the depth chart, but it is a significant development nevertheless as the running back had topped the list since Pittsburgh first released their depth chart for 2018.
The impasse between Bell and the Steelers has been one of themes of the offseason and rumbled on into Week 1, when the running back failed to report to camp ahead of Pittsburgh’s game against the Browns.
With the Steelers beginning their second week of regular season practice, the Ohio native remains AWOL and it appears increasingly likely his future might lie away from Pittsburgh.
Bell did not get the big contract he was looking for this summer, as the Steelers opted to franchise-tag him for the second consecutive season instead.
The Steelers and the running back failed to agree a long-term deal ahead of the July 16 deadline for franchise-tagged players. While Bell will make $14.5 million this season, he has repeatedly indicated he wants to secure a lucrative long-term deal, particularly after Todd Gurley agreed a four-year extension with the Los Angeles Rams in July.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $60 million, the highest per-year average for a running back, and 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, less than a quarter of the amount included in Gurley’s new deal, and less than what LeSean McCoy got when he signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2015, when he got over $18 million guaranteed.
Last season, Bell recorded career-high figures in rushing touchdowns and rushing attempts with nine and 321 respectively.
However, the Steelers appeared determined to play hardball with the former Michigan State student and have made clear Conner is their number one choice at running back for the time being.
Conner recorded 31 rushing attempts in Week 1, running for 135 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Bell is reportedly willing to sit out a chunk of the season to prevent being overused and maximize his chances of being fully healthy in free agency, while the Steelers can’t offer him a long-term deal until the end of the season.