NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday on NFL GameDay Morning that the Steelers will franchise tag Bell.
The tag should be more than $12 million for running backs this season. Franchising Bell will give the sides an opportunity to work out a long-term deal.
As we mentioned here in December, there are several factors that will influence any long-term deal: off the field concerns (suspensions the past two season) and health (knee injuries in 2014 and 2015). Can Pittsburgh count on him to be on the field every game for the foreseeable future?
Rapoport noted that as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, Bell could command "big time playmaker money."
Bell's production speaks for itself. The 24-year-old back ranked first in the NFL in touches per game (28.0) and scrimmage YPG (157.0) and was second in rushing YPG (105.7), despite missing four contests this season (3 to suspension, 1 to rest).
From Weeks 4-16 (when Bell played), he led the NFL in touches (336) and scrimmage yards (1,884) -- 28 more touches than David Johnson's 308 and 189 more scrimmage yards than Ezekiel Elliott's 1,695 (both 2nd-most in that span).
His combination of patience, burst and receiver-like hands make him a dangerous dual threat that is certain to get paid. Bell should get a deal that resets the running back market and recognizes his value outside of the run game. Pittsburgh will utilize the franchise tag to ensure it has as much negotiating leverage and time to get a deal time as possible
Rapoport also noted that Pittsburgh would like to extend Antonio Brown ahead of his final season under contract. Locking down both Bell and Brown in 2017 would stabilize the Steelers' offensive future well into Ben Roethlisberger's twilight years.