Update: The Steelers have officially applied the tag, according to both Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network and Adam Schefter of ESPN. Bell was set to be the top free agent at his position, though there was always talk that the Steelers were confident they could work out a long-term deal.
Instead, they will tag Bell for the second time in as many years. The tag will pay him $14.544 million, or something very close to that, for the 2018 season alone. They are likely to continue discussions on a long-term deal.
San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde is set to be a free agent, and while the team has met with his agent, it’s unclear if he’s even expected back at this point. The 49ers spent a lot of time with running backs at the NFL Combine, meeting with the consensus top back, Saquon Barkley, as well as most of the top backs in the class.
Barkley, though, has had a phenomenal showing at the combine and is reportedly in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick.
Bell, 26, was given the tag last year after the expiration of his rookie contract, for a base salary and cap hit of $12.12 million. The tag would, once again, make him the highest-paid running back in the league, at least for the 2018 season. Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons has an average-per-year of $8.25 million, just ahead of LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills.
Any long-term deal for Bell would start above Freeman’s number. I could see the 49ers pursuing Bell if he hit free agency, and paying him an awful lot of money, but I doubt the 49ers would be interested to the tune of over $14 million for a single season. There are a number of things that can happen now, and I don’t think any of them lead to the 49ers acquiring Bell, whether that be in free agency, a tag-and-trade or something else.
My guess is a deal doesn’t get done for Hyde either, and the 49ers roll with a free agent signing, Matt Breida and Joe Williams. I think Dion Lewis would be the ideal pickup due to his fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. We’ll see what happens. Either way, it would seem that Hyde is now the best running back on the open market.