Le’Veon Bell has officially left $14.5 million on the table.
The All-Pro running back failed to report to Pittsburgh Steelers headquarters Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, the deadline for him to play this season on the franchise tag.
“I want to confirm that Le’Veon Bell did not sign his Franchise Tender today and, as a result, he will not be eligible to play football during the 2018 season,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement.
Bell, who’s currently in Pittsburgh, is missing the season to preserve his long-term viability for a 2019 contract despite telling ESPN on Oct. 1 that he would play in 2018.
“I’ll be fully committed and give you everything I have,” Bell said then. “I still want to go out there and win a Super Bowl with the Steelers.”
Rocky franchise-tag negotiations created distance between Bell and the Steelers. Bell missed 2017 training camp when both sides couldn’t agree on a contract, and he eventually played on a $12.12 million tag. He took it a step further this year by missing games after turning down a five-year, $70 million offer because of what Bell calls a low true guarantee of $17 million. Bell has been able to stay away because he’s unsigned.
The Steelers explored dealing Bell before the Oct. 30 trade deadline, but no deal was possible without his signature. A third franchise tag in 2019 would rise to $25 million-plus — based on a formula involving the five highest-paid players in the league — regardless of whether Bell played a down in 2018. In the offseason, the Steelers will consider using a $14.5 million transition tag, which allows them to match any outside offer for Bell or let him walk in free agency. If he signed a lucrative deal elsewhere, the Steelers would receive a midround compensatory draft pick.
When asked what happens if Bell never returns to the Steelers, coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon, “So be it.”