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Steelers don't expect Le'Veon Bell to play in 2018

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Don't expect Le'Veon Bell to show up to the Pittsburgh Steelers facility next week, or anytime this season for that matter.

Despite Steelers owner Art Rooney II recently saying he's anticipating Bell's return to the facility, the team is not expecting their star running back to play for them this season, sources told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Rapoport added Pittsburgh wants him back on the roster, but the front office believes Bell will stay away and await free agency in 2019.

Rooney was optimistic Thursday that Bell would return, telling SiriusXM NFL Radio, "I have to start by saying I don't know what his plans are, but I would say at this point we expect him to come back next week. We know he's back in Pittsburgh and so we're hoping to have some communications with him over the weekend and we're kind of expecting he will be back next week."

Those expectations have since changed.

Bell hasn't publicly said whether or not he's willing to sign his franchise tender or accept a one-year deal with the Steelers ahead of Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline to retain his playing eligibility for this season.

The Steelers could franchise tag Bell for a third time in 2019, but he would be tagged at the quarterback salary number, not the lower number he was tagged at this year, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Rooney said Thursday the team will eventually address that issue, but it's highly unlikely the Steelers would choose to tag him at that number.

This most recent development comes just two days after Steelers running back James Conner entered concussion protocol following Pittsburgh's rollicking Thursday night win, prompting speculation that a door was opening for Bell to return to his starting role.

Bell returned to Pittsburgh this week after saying "fairwell" on Monday to Miami, where he had been training during his self-imposed exile. He also tweeted to his followers this week in some kind of upside-down hieroglyphs, "Don't judge me off my decision because maybe this isn't what you'd do. ... I'm not going to apologize for what I believe is right for myself, family and the rest of my peers, period."

The Steelers are optimistic that Conner will be able to play next Sunday at Jacksonville, according to Rapoport.

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