When franchise player Le’Veon Bell withdrew his services for the start of training camp last summer, Antonio Brown emphasized how much the Steelers need him on the field.
After Bell skipped the start of offseason training activities on Wednesday, Brown sent another message about the importance of practicing with teammates.
“The first rule of getting better is showing up,”
Brown told reporters.
“You can’t make anything better without showing up. And I think if he shows up, make everyone understands where he wants to be, he wants to be here not just for this year but for years to come, come out here and show up. Show up and get better. Show guys you’re serious.”
Early in the offseason, both Bell and team president Art Rooney II expressed optimism that a long-term agreement would be reached to solidify his future in Pittsburgh. There has been no sign of progress since then, however, with Bell threatening a “rerun of last year” when he sat out training camp and reported in time for the season opener.
Set to earn $14.5 million under the franchise tag, Bell has until the league-mandated July 16 deadline to finalize a long-term deal with the Steelers. If no agreement is reached, he will be a free agent again next offseason, subject to a third consecutive franchise-tag designation.
Bell’s target number in negotiations has been $17 million, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Thursday’s edition of NFL Total Access.
That number would, of course, shatter the market for Bell’s position, but he has long believed that he deserves to be compensated as both a No. 1 running back and a No. 2 wide receiver. Bell turned down last offseason a five-year deal worth more annually than the 2017 franchise-tag figure of $12.1 million, Pelissero added.
In contrast to the All-Pro running back, Brown was rewarded with a restructured contract in 2015 after outplaying the six-year, $43 deal originally signed in 2012. He landed a fresh four-year, $68 million extension last offseason. Along the way, he never held out.
After watching Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and Eagles linebacker Paul Worrilow struck down by ACL injuries on Tuesday, it’s fair to wonder if voluntary practices are worth the injury risk to star players.
Yet to sign his franchise tender, Bell has no contract. He also has little incentive to heed Brown’s advice, putting his body in harm’s way and potentially sacrificing leverage.