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Steelers expected to franchise Le’Veon Bell in spite of holdout, retirement threats

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Will he hit the open market?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a slightly important football game to play today, but offseason decisions still loom. Running back Le’Veon Bell said earlier this week he would consider holding out and potentially retiring if the organization used the franchise tag on him for a second straight season. NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport said on Sunday morning that the team is still planning on using the tag, in spite of the threat.

Bell attempted to walk back the threat, saying he was focused on winning a Super Bowl right now, and would deal with next year later. I don’t doubt that those threats will pop back up later this spring if the Steelers franchise him. I suspect we see a holdout, but how long it lasts remains to be seen. He could sit out the first 11 weeks and return for the final six weeks to get his accrued season. Or, maybe he forces a trade and gets his new contract elsewhere.

We’ve seen running backs make some decent money after what appeared to be a lull in the market in recent years, but would someone give him the $16 million per year he has said he wants? The 49ers have more than enough cap space to do that kind of deal, but would they also give up draft picks to make it happen? I just can’t see that happening. He would be a good fit for the offense, but even if they are comfortable paying him the money he wants, the premium they would pay in draft picks for a trade might be a bit too rich.