Steelers owner doesn't expect team to trade Le'Veon Bell

Steelers owner Art Rooney II took a deep breath, seemingly considering his responses about all his team had dealt with the last few months. He chose his words carefully. Was he surprised the Le'Veon Bell saga lasted as long as it has?

"Yes," Rooney said after a pause. "Yes, I am."

As is everyone else. The mystery surrounding the Steelers franchise running back could be ending this week, with Bell potentially returning to the team as early as Monday. Except Bell hasn't told the team he's definitely coming back, and until he does, it's status quo.

One facet, though, is becoming clearer: Bell appears increasingly likely to remain on the Steelers until 2019. Rooney said as much in a conversation with NFL Network this week before exiting the league meetings in New York City.

"I expect him to be a member of the team going forward," Rooney said, in response to a question about trade talks ahead of the Oct. 30 trade deadline. "That's my expectation."

Pittsburgh shopped Bell earlier in the season, and remain open to it. But by now, they know the reality is that Bell will almost certainly sign whenever he does, rejoin the team, form a 1-2 punch with James Conner, then walk in the offseason.

Based on Bell's current contract and the inability of a new team to negotiate a deal to lock him up long term, this was always the likeliest option. And Rooney seems resigned to it.

There are even some who believe -- absent final word from Bell or his agent Adisa Bakari -- Bell will show up after the trade deadline if he isn't shipped out of town. Rooney said while there have been conversations between the team and Bell's agent, it hasn't been much.

He added there has been zero discussion of adding to Bell's franchise tag number as a way of incentivizing him to show up.

The Steelers, on a bye this week, are 3-2-1 despite all this.

"I think the team has handled it well," Rooney said. "The players have adjusted, just carrying on without him. That's all you can do. But it's early in the season, we have a long way to go. We just have to keep getting better every week. Can't take anything for granted."

In Bell's place, Conner is averaging 4.4 yards per rush, adding in 26 catches for 257 yards in 6 games. He's emerged as a star.

"We've learned that James is a darn good football player," Rooney concluded. "Happy to have him."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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