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Le’Veon Bell: ‘We are a lot closer [to a contract extension] than we were last year’

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I’d be surprised if Bell hits free agency this year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell have had a contentious business relationship over the past year due to contract negotiations, but it sounds like they are making progress. Bell is in Orlando for the Pro Bowl, and he told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the two sides are a lot closer in contract talks than they were last year.

Bell played this past season on the franchise tag, which paid him a little over $12 million. The Steelers offer last year would have reportedly paid him $30 million over the first two seasons, and $42 million over the first three. He said near the end of this season that he would consider holding out or retirement if the team franchised him again. He backed off from that statement, saying he was focused on the playoffs, and would deal with contract issues later.

Bell hitting the open market would be huge given how many teams have a lot of cap space at their disposal. I don’t know if he’d get a record-breaking deal for a running back, but the open market would give him a shot at it.

The 49ers could still extend Carlos Hyde, but odds are decent they will be in the market for running back help. It might be via free agency, it might be via the draft, but how heavy they are willing to go remains to be seen. Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner have a history of turning late round picks and inexpensive free agents into solid running backs. At the same time, Shanahan has not previously had the personnel power he now appears to have. I don’t think we see Bell hit the open market, but it would be fascinating to see what happens if he does!