Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Browntold ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that he had a "top secret" two-hour phone conversation with Bell on Saturday night. While he didn't get into specifics about their conversation, Brown wanted Bell to know how much Pittsburgh values his playmaking.
"We need him. I need him," Brown said. "If we're going to do what we desire to do, we need every guy a part of the organization in a helmet to be there committed to the cause. He's a special piece. Obviously, we know what he brings to the team, his dimension playing football, but he's a special individual. I pray that we have him there."
Bell's importance to the Steelers' offense is clear. The dual-threat became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game for a season. He averaged 157.0 scrimmage yards per game in 2016. Bell finished the season as Pittsburgh's top running back with 1,268 yards and No. 2 receiver with 75 catches for 616 yards.
During Pittsburgh's nine-game winning streak from last year, which propelled them to the AFC Championship Game, Bell was the engine of the Steelers' offense. During the stretch, he rushed for 90-plus yards in the eight contests he played (sitting out the regular season finale), with seven games of 115-plus rushing yards. Bell was the workhorse in the Steelers' two playoff wins, averaging 29.5 carries and 168.5 rushing yards, despite tweaking his groin.
Bell will play on the $12.1 million franchise tag in 2017. Until he signs the tender, Bell is not obligated to show up for training camp.