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Le’Veon Bell will sit out the 2018 season

Free agency should be interesting next March.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be getting back running back Le’Veon Bell before the end of the 2018 season. Bell had until Tuesday to report to the team, and chose to stay away. He had to report by Tuesday, and by not doing so, he is ineligible to play the rest of the season. The team confirmed the news shortly after the 1 p.m. PT deadline.

The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell for the second consecutive year, and he said he would not play under it. The Steelers could franchise tag him again next offseason, but it would count as the third franchise tag, and thus count as the much higher QB salary. The Steelers could use the cheaper transition tag, but that means they would have right of first refusal on any contract, and get no draft pick compensation if he leaves.

Every offseason brings some notable names to free agency, but Bell will be one of the biggest to hit the open market in recent memory. Kirk Cousins was one such option this past offseason, but for his position, Bell is considerably better than Cousins. Bell likely won’t get a fully guaranteed contract like Cousins (unless he signs a short-term deal), but he will be in line for a big pay day.

The 49ers are one of the handful of teams with serious cap space next offseason, and were mentioned in odds content related to Bell. However, given the return of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida’s breakthrough this season, the odds of the 49ers even pursuing Bell seem non-existent.

It’s going to be an intriguing March once Bell does hit the market. He is being criticized by some for skipping out on $14.5 million, but he will not hit the market entirely healthy and without one extra year of tread on his tires. We’ve seen college players suffer in the draft after skipping their final year of college, but this is different. Bell is a proven commodity, and given how easily running backs can wear down, this makes a lot of sense in my mind. I don’t know if he’ll get the huge deal he thought he would get, but given the injury risk of playing this season, I don’t blame him for waiting this out to get to the market.