As we noted in yesterday’s Bullets, there was a presumption that the Pittsburgh Steelers would use some sort of tag on star running back Le’Veon Bell.
Instead, the Steelers are content to let their stud rusher test the open market un-tagged.
Steelers are not tagging Le'Veon Bell, according to GM Kevin Colbert: "Le’Veon is still a great player. We can’t afford to use any other type of tags. Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 20, 2019
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports the Steelers will not place the Franchise or Transition tag on Bell, which comes as somewhat of a surprise. Sure, Bell and the Steelers never seemed to be close on coming to an agreement on a contract, but using either tag could have allowed the team to match any offer that came from one of the NFL’s other 31 teams. But by announcing their intent not to use any tag, Pittsburgh has created a clean breakup with someone who was a key piece to their offense. Hello, Bears?
Last week, the Bears were highlighted as a team to watch in an upcoming Bell sweepstakes. Pulling off such an acquisition is a challenge, but they are in the middle of a competitive window and could conceivably look to max it out in an effort to win a long-coveted second Super Bowl title. Could they ultimately pull it off? Sure … but it’s a bit complicated. GM Ryan Pace has shown he can be aggressive in making moves to add the personnel he has his sights on and Head Coach Matt Nagy used his running backs late in the year in a way where it’s easy to imagine why the team would seek an upgrade at the top of the depth chart.
Helping the Bears’ cause in their run at Bell is that they will clear nearly $6 million in cap space once they cut tight end Dion Sims. That brings the Bears to about $12.8 million in cap space entering the offseason. To be clear, that’s not enough to land Bell (let alone make any other potential franchise-altering moves (hello, Antonio Brown)), but it’s a step in the right direction. Again, it’s not going to be easy, if it’s going to be anything at all.
Further complicating the Bears’ pursuit is that Bell hitting free agency unrestricted probably makes it more difficult for Chicago to acquire him, as opposed to trying to come to a trade agreement with the Steelers. But at least we all know that a potential game-changer in the backfield is available on the open market and the cost is only money.
Bell’s representation can begin talking to other teams on March 11, and he figures to have a fair share of suitors. Whether the Bears are one of them remains to be seen. But stay tuned, because stranger things have happened.