Bell told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler before practice Thursday he "would definitely consider" sitting out the 2018 season if the Steelers tagged him for the second straight season. He said his message to the Steelers is simple: "Value me."
"I'm not going to settle for anything," Bell said. "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."
Bell's remarks come three days before the Steelers' AFC Division Round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's well known that Bell wasn't pleased with playing under the tag -- he sat out training camp and the preseason before signing his tag a week before the start of the season. He finished third in league rushing with 1,291 yards over 15 games.
Bell's distaste for playing under the tag runs deep -- he told Fowler he'd "probably be done" with football if he ultimately decided to sit out in 2018.
"They tag me again, it will be me [saying], 'OK, do I want to play on the tag or do I not want to play on the tag?' That's what it comes down to," Bell said. "If I was a free agent and they let me go, be a free agent, then yeah, I'm going to go explore free agency, test the market."
It's easy to dismiss Bell's comments as little more than a hardline negotiation tactic. While playing under the tag is rarely an ideal situation for any player, it seems preposterous to imagine a 25-year-old who's arguably the NFL's best running back walking away.
"I'm happy where I'm at," Bell said. "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."
UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, Bell took to Twitter to clarify his feelings about next season: