According to NFL Networks Maurice Jones-Drew (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk), Bells agent, Adisa Bakari, didnt initially realize that Bell could be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender next season even if he sits out the entire 2018 season.
“So what happened was that once that came out, that theyre now digging and reading … trying to understand the language, because theres a lot of language in the CBA, especially for this particular instance,” Jones-Drew said. “So theyre going back now to really sit down and figure out [the language].”
On the day of the Steelers hosting the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football, things have taken a turn for a player on the Steelers who has yet to play for the Steelers. LeVeon Bell, thought to possibly report on Thursday and likely to report by next Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET to guarantee he can play this year, may not do so after all, thanks to a CBA loophole that he and his agent recently discovered.
Bell recently left Miami and returned to Pittsburgh, where hes been spotted playing pickup basketball. He is also tweeting with upside down letters, confusing everyone with a message about him looking out for his family.
“Once that came out, there is now digging and reading and trying to understand the language – there’s a lot of language in the CBA, particularly for this particular instance,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s going back now, to sit down and figure out … because if it’s true, Le’Veon doesn’t have to play and he still gets the transition tag, which makes him a free agent, and he gets to go out and negotiate with anyone he wants and the Steelers have the right to match it.”
Thats the only message Bells put out in the last month, give or take, so how do we know that Bell and his agent are plotting on this loophole? Well, according to Maurice Jones-Drew of NFL Media in an appearance on the always-excellent Dave Dameshek Football Program (I dont often recommend podcasts not by me, but Sheks pod is great, check it out here), Bell and his agent, who is also MJDs agent, are “digging” through the CBA to try and figure out Bells options.
Because of the $25 million-plus franchise-tag number in 2019, the transition tag would be the more likely scenario for the Steelers if they choose to try to keep Bell. The running back would be free to negotiate with NFL teams, but the Steelers would have the right to match any offer. If the Steelers don’t match the offer, they would receive no compensation.
“So what happened was, once that came out that theyre now digging and reading and trying to understand the language,” Jones-Drew said. “Because theres a lot of language in the CBA, especially for this particular instance. Now the old one was, you have to sign by this or it went back … theyre going back now to really sit down and figure out.”
Until recently, however, Bakari apparently thought the Steelers could re-use the second-year tag number of $14.544 million in 2019 if Bell held out the entire 2018 season. That is what former running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who also is represented by Bakari, told host Dave Dameshek on the league-run NFL Podcasts this week.
What could they be figuring out? Well lets walk through the actual CBA and break down the situation here. For starters, heres the language in the CBA, signed way back in 2011, for “Section 15. Signing Period for Franchise Players.”
Agent didnt know that LeVeon Bell possibly doesnt have to show up to force QB tender
In the event that a player who is designated and tendered as a Franchise Player has not signed a Player Contract with a Club by the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, at 4:00pm New York time, the player shall be prohibited from playing football in the NFL for the remainder of that League Year…
Put in laymans terms: if Bell doesnt sign his tender by Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. ET, he will not be allowed to play football for anyone during the 2018 season. Under the OLD CBA, not signing by this period would have been a major problem and prohibited him from potentially becoming a free agent the following year.
If Bell does not sign his franchise tag tender by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, he cannot play this season. He would become a free agent in March of 2019 regardless, unless Pittsburgh places a transition tag or even more expensive franchise tag on him.
Under the NEW CBA however, he might be able to skate into free agency. If he doesnt play, according to the CBA, the Steelers “shall have the right to designate [Bell] as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player” in 2019. Typically speaking in a franchise tag situation, there would be 120 percent bump in the price of the tender. EXCEPT, if Bell is “redesignated as a Franchise Player for the League Year following the League Year in which he does not play, the player may be designated only under Section 2(a)(i) above.”
What does “Section 2(a)(i)” consist of? Its the “Required Tender for Franchise Players” and it references “Subsection (b)” of that portion of the CBA.
LeVeon Bells lengthy holdout turns upside down on Twitter
That “Subsection (b)” makes very clear that Bell will be given a salary of one of three things, whichever is greatest.
3. Will Terrell Edmunds hold up for the long haul? : The rookie first-rounder has played more defensive snaps than any other Steeler. Tomlin is hoping to move Morgan Burnett back into a starting role, but that is contingent on Burnett remaining healthy. The second half will be a test for Edmunds, whose longest season at Virginia Tech was 14 games when he was a sophomore.
The first one is key there, because it basically means Bells salary will be the equivalent to the quarterback franchise tag cost. That cost will be north of $25 million for the 2019 season.
In other words, Bell can just not sign his franchise tag at all, not play one snap during the 2018 NFL season and he can then be tagged by the Steelers in one of two ways.
Either with a franchise tag which will pay him more than $25 million next year, which is not a thing the Steelers are going to do because the cost is too prohibitive. Or the Steelers will give Bell the transition tag, which will effectively make him a free agent, because hell be able to negotiate a deal with another team.
The Steelers will be able to match that deal, but its highly unlikely they will because a) it will be above what they previously offered Bell and b) because James Conner has played so well this season.
From Article XX, Section 17(a) of the 2006 CBA: If a Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable tender must be made and any 120% tender shall be measured from the Players prior year salary.
Its pretty stunning, really. The hardest thing to figure out is why it took Bells agent this long to figure out the CBA allowed him to do this.
Which makes the teams willingness to acknowledge that a third tag in 2019 counts as the third tag under the CBA (making him eligible for the quarterback tender) even if he doesnt show up this year seem even more bizarre. The league and its teams never tip their hand on issues like this, and they never (I guess I can no longer say never) admit preemptively that the leagues position would lose, if push came to shove.
Cryptic-Tweeting LeVeon Bell Has Entered the Upside-Down
Whats not hard to figure out is that Bell is probably not going to play this season, because he knows he can avoid injury and still hit free agency while maximizing his value. He might miss out on $13 million this year, but hes already pretty far down that road, with the ability to recoup it in full whenever he signs a new deal with a new team.
We though this might be the beginning of the end of Bells time in Pittsburgh, but the reality is it might have already ended.
Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives… Full Bio