The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing Jacksonville in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs on Sunday. If they win that game, it’s on to the AFC championship. And if they win that, they will play in the Super Bowl.
But star running back Le’Veon Bell appeared to be thinking past everything that lies in the team’s near future during an interview on Thursday. The four-time Pro Bowler told ESPN he might sit out for a season, or even retire, if he is franchise tagged by the Steelers again next offseason.
"I hope it doesn't come to that,” he said, “but I would definitely consider it."
Bell said he’d “probably be done” playing football if he sat out the entire season.
Later on Thursday, Bell took to Twitter to reassure Steelers fans that he hasn’t lost focus on the immediate task ahead of him and his teammates.
Bell rushed a league-high 321 times and also caught 85 passes this year. In his five NFL seasons, he has played 62 games and amassed 7,996 yards, more than anyone else during the same stretch since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to ESPN.
Rather than allow Bell to enter free agency last offseason, the Steelers used their franchise tag on him. For Bell, that meant a salary of $12.12 million for this season. After reportedly turning down a long-term deal worth up to $30 million in the first two seasons, Bell sat out all of training camp in 2017 and did not report to the Steelers until nine days before the season opener.
If he’s franchised again next year, Bell should receive a salary in the neighborhood of $14.5 million. But he indicated Thursday that’s not the kind of deal he’s interested in. His advice to the Steelers? “Value me,” Bell said Thursday.
"Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I'm not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I'm not getting what I feel I'm valued at."
He added: "I don't necessarily care about the money aspect of it. I just want to be valued where I'm at. If I am playing this game, I want to set standards for all the other running backs behind me, like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, guys like that. I'm a guy they can kind of look at. I feel I can do that. I'm in a position where I can do that, and I'm going to do it."
Gurley, the Rams’ Pro Bowl running back who is due to become a free agent after the 2018 season, definitely took note of Bell’s comments.