"Unfortunately, we were unable to agree to terms on a long-term contract with Le'Veon Bell prior to today's deadline," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. "Le'Veon is scheduled to play this year under the exclusive franchise tag designation. We will resume our efforts to address his contract situation following the 2017 season."
With the 4 p.m. ET deadline passing, Bell will play 2017 under the $12.1 million franchise tag. He will be a free agent in 2018, unless the Steelers again wield the franchise tag.
Bell has not yet signed his franchise tender. Until he signs the tender, the running back is not obligated to attend training camp, which opens on July 27. Bell, who is coming off surgery but appears healthy, could sit out the beginning of camp. The running back took to Twitter to spell out his goals for the upcoming season:
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday the Steelers and Bell couldn't get a deal done despite intense negotiations up to the deadline. The Steelers' offer to Bell averaged more than $12 million per year, with $30 million over the first two years, two people informed of the decision told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
One issue with the deal, per Rapoport, was the amount of guaranteed money. The Steelers historically structure deals with little guaranteed beyond the first year. The issue appears to have stalled the process.
Bell's one-year, $12.1 million tag figure for 2017 puts him atop the running back market. It is four million more than the average per-year number in LeSean McCoy's five-year, $40 million deal.
Bell's contract situation isn't as simple as making him the highest-paid running back. The 25-year-old rusher is the best dual-threat back in the NFL. Bell wants to be compensated not just for running the ball, but also paid in line with his pass-catching ability.
Speaking on NFL Network, Rapoport expounded on what Bell was looking for in a long-term deal.
"But he's not trying to break any ground, because he's already broken it," Rapoport said of the running back market. "It kind of makes the situation weird, and it kind of helps you understand why the Steelers paying just a little bit more than the franchise tag might be is something they feel comfortable with. But for Bell, he's such a good receiver out of the backfield and in the slot, that maybe he feels like he deserves more than any running back."
From the Steelers' perspective, Bell's past issues with suspension and injuries played a role in how much guaranteed money they were willing to sink into the dual-threat.
With the sides unable to work on a new long-term deal until after the season, Bell's future in Pittsburgh will remain murky into 2018.