Mandatory mini-camp has begun for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and their star running back is nowhere to be found. Let me preface this by saying technically he is not required to be at mini-camp, and can not be fined for not being there. The loophole here is Bell has not signed his franchise tag and therefore is not under contract. Players not under contract are under no obligation to be present at their teams camp. Add to that the fact he is still recuperating from offseason surgery, and has all the excuses he needs not to be there.
Taking all of the above into consideration, Bell should be at mini-camp period. Clearly Bell is making a statement about his unhappiness with his lack of a new contract. Alejandro Villanueva is also seeking a new contract, but has chosen to attend the mandatory mini-camp. Villanueva stands to make substantially less than he’s worth in his current situation. While Bell would make $12.2 million dollars guaranteed in 2017 just for signing his franchise tag. Just showing his face and doing nothing would go a long way in making the contract a non story. Being injured, Bell would just have to stand around and maybe help the younger backs on the roster get up to speed. It’s a bad look for a player who’s been a constant distraction almost from the start. Whether it’s from injuries, or drug suspensions and now contract disputes the drama just continues.
There are good arguments on both sides of this contract dispute which is why this could linger for quite some time. The franchise tag for running backs is much higher then what any back under contract makes at this time. Lesean Mccoy is the highest paid at this point at $8 million. The Steelers want no part of a long term deal that starts at $12.2 per season. Particularly for a player with the off field issues and more importantly the injury concerns. Bell, on the other hand, can argue that he is far and away the best back in the NFL. Not to mention how good a reciever he can be. A good argument can be made that he is worth even more then the franchise tag offers him per season. If both sides decide to dig thier heels in, we could be in for a prolonged negotiaton. And what is a small distraction now, could turn into a much bigger one later on in the off-season. The Steelers had more than their share of incidents last year, and are clearly looking to move on from it. The draft proved they are seeking football first type players going forward. A long, bitter contract dispute is exactly the type of thing the team wants to avoid. Unfortunately this may be exactly what they are in for in the coming months.