Despite not being signed long-term, Le’Veon Bell could still be in Steelers’ plans

Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.

First and 10: July 18

First: Despite not being signed long-term, Le’Veon Bell could still be in Steelers’ plans

1. Gettelman’s exit | 2. Rivera’s GMs
3. Odd GM moves | 4. NFL decision on Elliott
5. Can Cowboys get by? | 6. The Cousins chase
7. Manziel, Kaepernick, Griffin | 8. Johnson and Rams
9. Johnson and Lions | 10. Camps at hand


Everyone, it seemed, was talking about Kirk Cousins on Monday as the NFL deadline for teams to sign their franchise-tagged players to long-term deals came and went. And indeed, it was significant that the Washington Redskins failed to complete a deal with Cousins, perhaps setting the stage for the quarterback to move on next year after playing the 2017 season on his one-year, $23.94 million franchise deal.

But there was relatively little conversation about the deadline passing without the Pittsburgh Steelers agreeing to a multiyear contract with their superb running back, Le’Veon Bell. That, too, was a meaningful development, although the dynamic between Bell and the Steelers is far different from that between the Redskins and Cousins.

Unlike what the Redskins provided regarding the Cousins non-deal, there was no announcement made by the Steelers about what had — or hadn’t — transpired in negotiations. There was simply a difference of opinion as to what the deal rightfully should be.

Bell will play the upcoming season for a salary of $12.12 million after he signs his franchise deal, far more than the $5 million to $6 million per year that was the going rate for running backs on the free agent market this offseason.

That complicates future negotiations for the Steelers and Bell. The Steelers would have to pay Bell $14.54 million in 2018 if they tag him for a second year in a row. That’s a huge price tag for a player at a position that has been, for the most part, devalued in today’s pass-happy NFL.

But Bell is one of the few running backs who remains a difference maker. The Steelers seem to know that, and they appear intent upon trying to get a deal done with him. They struck a deal with wide receiver Antonio Brown earlier this offseason. That deal took longer to come together than Brown wanted, but the Steelers got it done.

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They probably will do the same with Bell. It won’t be precisely on the timetable that Bell wants, and it won’t be for precisely the terms he’s seeking. But the Steelers are all about stability. They want to keep Bell and Brown together with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and take a few more shots at unseating the New England Patriots for AFC supremacy.

The next step is for Bell to decide when to sign and report to training camp. He is under no obligation to report on time, as an unsigned player. But he could take a step toward maintaining a respectful, professional relationship with the Steelers by reporting close to on time. He is well-liked and respected within the locker room, and the Steelers realize that giving him a long-term deal would go over well among Bell’s teammates.

He has had issues with injuries and suspensions. But he has been one of the league’s most productive players — not merely one of its most productive runners — when he has been in the lineup. No one should be surprised if and when the Steelers find a way to retain him for the long term.


1. Gettleman’s exit … The abrupt firing of General Manager Dave Gettleman by the Carolina Panthers on Monday surprised people in that organization and around the league. It is not the time of the year when GMs generally are dismissed, and the Panthers had been successful for most of Gettleman’s four-year tenure.

He was not liked by all, as the social-media celebrations of Gettleman’s exit by former Panthers Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams demonstrated. But his job was not to be universally beloved. His job was to construct winning teams. And, for the most part, he did that. Remember, no one makes the tough, unsentimental roster decisions necessary for sustained success in the salary cap era better than Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. Such moves must be made.

But Gettleman’s latest tough decision — rescinding the franchise tag initially given last offseason to cornerback Josh Norman, allowing Norman to become a free agent and sign with the Redskins — was followed by a disappointing season on the heels of a Super Bowl appearance. Would keeping Norman have made a difference last season? Probably not. Too much else went wrong. But no one got the chance to find out what keeping that powerful defense basically intact would have meant for a potential Carolina Super Bowl encore.

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Once the winning ceased, perhaps Gettleman’s lack of a soft touch caught up to him. Tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis could be next in line for new contracts. Some people within the league wonder whether owner Jerry Richardson simply did not want to risk seeing Olsen and Davis go the way of Smith, Williams and Norman.

2. Rivera’s GMs … Panthers Coach Ron Rivera could be on his third GM, having worked with Marty Hurney and Gettleman.

There is a chance, however, that number could remain at two. Hurney lives in Charlotte and works in radio there. He is being mentioned as a possible interim GM while the Panthers search for a more permanent replacement. Their former assistant GM, Brandon Beane, was hired this offseason as GM of the Buffalo Bills, and it might be difficult for the Panthers to find another capable front office executive on such short notice with training camps about to open.

3. Odd GM moves … It was an offseason of oddly timed GM dismissals around the league.

The Redskins ousted Scot McCloughan as their general manager before the NFL draft. The Kansas City Chiefs made a move to replace their GM, John Dorsey, in June. Now comes Gettleman’s exit with training camp at hand. So much for the usual NFL protocol of firing a general manager either immediately after the season or right after the draft.

4. NFL’s decision on Elliott … When will the NFL make a decision about potential disciplinary action against Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott? It’s anybody’s guesst.

The league did seem to be nearing a resolution of its lengthy investigation into domestic violence allegations against Elliott. A person familiar with the NFL’s deliberations dismissed an ESPN report that Elliott and his representatives are bracing for a possible suspension of one or two games, calling it speculation and adding that the investigation was not completed and no decision had been made. But that at least was an indication that the matter was on its way to being resolved.

Then came Monday’s reports of Elliott’s alleged involvement in an altercation Sunday night at a Dallas bar. The league is looking into those allegations, and it is not clear what that might mean to the timetable for a decision about discipline.

5. Can Cowboys get by? … Could the Cowboys get by without Elliott early in the season? It would be difficult. He was a major part of the team’s offense last season as a rookie. But the Cowboys do have Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris on the roster to share the running back duties, and their offensive line should be imposing again.

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Still, the burden on second-year quarterback Dak Prescott and the team’s defense would increase exponentially. The Cowboys’ status as the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite entering the season certainly could be imperiled if Elliott must miss a significant portion of the season.

6. The Cousins chase … A very, very early ranking of the leading possibilities for Cousins’s team for the 2018 season: 1. 49ers; 2. Rams; 3. Browns; 4. Redskins; 5. Jets; 6. Cardinals; 7. Jaguars; 8. Broncos; 9. Bills.

7. Manziel, Kaepernick, Griffin … The opening of training camps is nearing, and there has been more recent talk about a possible return to the NFL by Johnny Manziel than about a team signing Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III. Does that make any sense?

8. Johnson and Rams … The other franchise-tagged player to go without a long-term deal Monday was Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. He is to make $16.7 million this season after being tagged for a second straight year. There never was much chance that the Rams and Johnson would strike a long-term deal. The Rams were not about to give a Stephon Gilmore-like contract to Johnson before he demonstrates that he can be a true No. 1 cornerback without Janoris Jenkins around to help.

9. Johnson and Lions … The Detroit Lions were wise to invite retired wide receiver Calvin Johnson to training camp. They need to do everything they can to attempt to repair their fractured relationship with one of their greatest-ever players. It will be interesting to see whether Johnson takes them up on their offer.

10. Camps at hand … It’s not long now. The first training camp opens Friday when the Cardinals report. Veterans for all teams are in camps by July 29.