Le'Veon Bell: Contract talks 'a lot closer than last year'

Is Pittsburgh Steelers franchise player Le'Veon Bell planning to sit out training camp for the second consecutive summer?

After placing No. 5 on NFL Network's *The Top 100 Players Of 2018*, Bell said he is optimistic about reaching an agreement on a new contract that would facilitate his arrival at camp on time.

"Yeah. You know regardless that's what I want to do," Bell explained on The Top 100 Players of 2018 Reactions show. "I don't want to have the replications of what happened last year. But if that came down to that, obviously I got to do what I got to do. Take my stand and protect myself. I don't want to have to do that. I want to go to camp and play for the Steelers long term."

Although Bell and team president Art Rooney each expressed hope early in the offseason that a deal will be reached, the All-Pro running back has since threatened a "rerun of last year" when he sat out 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 contract. His target number in negotiations has been $17 million annually, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported last month.

Bell turned down last offseason a five-year deal worth more annually than the 2017 franchise-tag figure of $12.1 million, Pelissero added. Somewhere in between those two numbers lies a middle ground that Bell believes the sides can find this time around.

"Obviously, the people in the organization try to do what's best for them and I'm trying to do what's best for me," Bell added. "We're working on it. We're a lot closer than we were last year at this time. That's what I'm happy about. None of that matters if we don't get it done. Hopefully we'll try to get something done. That's what I'm looking forward to. I got confidence we'll get it done. I want to do it."

If the two sides can reach a compromise by mid-July, Bell will arrive at Latrobe as a happy camper. If negotiations fall apart, on the other hand, Bell will likely enter yet another contract year without the benefit of summer practices to knock off the rust and gain the trademark synchronicity with his offensive line.

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