Le’Veon Bell is not at Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the running back wasn’t spotted at camp on Tuesday, the first of the three-day session, which is mandatory for all players under contract.
Bell hasn’t signed his franchise tender, is therefore not currently under contract and can’t be fined for missing mandatory minicamp.
The 25-year-old skipping camp doesn’t come as a surprise. Withholding his services is the only leverage Bell has at this stage of contract negotiations. Given that he’s coming off groin surgery it was unlikely he would have been a heavy participant.
Rapoport noted negotiations are ongoing and if contract talks ramp up, Bell could show for the end of minicamp.
Once the running back hits the field, the question will be how much will the Steelers ride the oft-dinged up Bell? The 25-year-old has played in just 18 games the past two regular seasons due to injury and suspension. In 12 games in 2016, Bell averaged 28 touches, with high-water marks of 42 touches in Week 14 and 36 in Week 11, per Next Gen Stats. In the first two weeks of the playoffs (while playing through a groin injury he would eventually have surgery on) he averaged 31.5 touches.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said this week that while Bell’s injuries in the past (knee, groin, hamstring) have been fluke-types, the Steelers are having “all those discussions” about the right workload for their franchise player.
“He’s a guy, his injuries have been oddball type of things, even the hamstring,” Haley said, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “He’s a guy who gets stronger every game. He does not want to come out of the game. He’s a year older. We’ve got to make sure we cover all of that, which we will and do as a staff.”
Bell is coming off of March surgery on his groin and is skipping minicamp in hopes of getting a long-term contract done before the July 15 deadline. Haley isn’t concerned with Bell’s time missed because the running back has always bounced back quickly in the past.
“I know Le’Veon’s ability — he’s missed because of injury, and when he’s come back, he’s come back ready to go,” Haley said. “I assume that’s the way it will be. He’s an astute guy who at least in the past has always come in at a high, high level for us. … He’s got his own issues he’s dealing with. When he gets here, we will all be excited.”
While the Steelers might consider curtailing some of Bell’s touches, it will be difficult to take one of the best weapons in the entire NFL off the field. Last season, Pittsburgh had capable backup DeAngelo Williams at its disposal and still chose to ride Bell. With third-round rookie James Conner their best option entering 2017, it’s difficult to imagine anyone cutting into Bell’s workload.
T.J. Watt has signed his rookie contract, the team announced Wednesday. The deal is for four years, though financial terms were not disclosed.
Selected 30th overall out of Wisconsin, Watt becomes the third member of his family to ink an NFL contract, with older brothers J.J. and Derek entering the league in 2011 and 2016. He’ll also have to fulfill little brother duties in picking up the check next offseason.
The signing officially pairs Watt with where he told NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman he thinks he “truly wanted to be” shortly after Pittsburgh drafted Watt near the end of the first round. Watt will play outside linebacker is Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme, where he’ll have a chance to learn from a future Hall of Famer in James Harrison and join a linebacking corps that also includes Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier as the Steelers load up their front seven.