And so its begun.  Le’veon Bell let the Steelers no exactly how negotiations will go if the team decides to place the franchise tag on him.  He fully intends to shoot his way out of town by any means necessary.  The first shot was fired 24 hours before the playoff game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.  As reported by Ed Bouchette, Bell missed all but the last five minutes of practice the day before the game.  To further his point, he then proceeded to show up late for the Tomlin mandated time on game days.  It’s clear Bell is trying  to make it impossible to keep him around.  How do you bring back a player who skipped a practice before the biggest game of the season?  The answer is you can’t, and that’s exactly what Bell is hoping for.

So now the question is how do the Pittsburgh brass respond.  Internally the team knows they can never allow Bell to play another game in a Steelers uniform.  In a year filled with drama and off-field distractions, the line has to be drawn here.  The team has to move on from Bell, or risk losing all credibility with the rest of the players.  Externally they can’t admit to it though.  If Kevin Colbert and company want to get any compensation for their unhappy running back, they need to act as though they plan on staying the course.  The real goal now is to work some kind of sign and trade for Bell. Let’s call this strategy tag and trade.

Now this strategy is not as easy as it seems. Players can not be traded until they actually sign the franchise tag because technically they are considered not under contract. Bell can avoid signing the tag right up until the season opener.  Waiting that long would make it much more difficult to move him once teams have their rosters set.  He could of course be enticed to sign it earlier with the lure of the long-term contract he’s been seeking all along. To make this happen, the Steelers would have to allow other teams to negotiate with their player before any trade can happen. With a deal in hand, all that’s left is what Pittsburgh would get in return.

At first thought, it’s reasonable to think a first round pick would be a fair return for such an outstanding talent.  It’s more likely though the team would have to settle for a second round pick due to all the circumstances surrounding such a deal.  At this point the Steelers should, and probably would drive Bell to the airport for a second round pick. Ridding themselves of Bell would send a strong message that the nonsense will no longer be tolerated.

Losing a back like Le’veon Bell will surely hurt the team in the short term. It’s been proven over and over again however that the running back position is one of the easier ones to fill. Look no further than Alvin Kamara who was a late third round pick. Backs can be found, and they don’t have to be high paid free agents or early draft picks. It’s time for the Steelers to move on from what promises to be one of the biggest distractions for the upcoming season. Granted this isn’t the move the team wants to make, but one that the Steelers now have no choice but to do.