While Ben Roethlisberger and other Pittsburgh Steelers players prepare to open the season against the Cleveland Browns, tensions seem to be ratcheting up with Le'Veon Bell and the organization.
The Pro Bowl running back has yet to report to sign his $14.54 million franchise tag tender. Listening to his agent, it doesn't sound like Bell plans to report anytime soon.
Speaking on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday, Bell's agent Adisa Bakari implied that Bell could sit out well into the season.
"I'll answer that question with a question," Bakari responded when asked what the plan with Bell was moving forward. "Because you know very well that I'm not obviously going to discuss our plan publicly. But I'll answer the question -- or attempt to -- with a question. What would the goal -- you're Kevin Colbert, you're Mike Tomlin -- and you possibly have a once-in-a-generation player for one more season. What would your plan be? What would you do with that hypothetical player?"
"I think you can read in between those lines."
In the subtext between those lines, Bakari seems to suggest he worries the Steelers might grind his client in the ground knowing it's their last year to use the do-it-all back. Bell earned 431 touches in 16 games, including playoffs, last season. The previous campaign, he earned 405 touches, including the postseason.
Bell would have to report by Week 10 to earn an accrued year toward free agency and hit the open market in 2019. Bakari did not let on to the plan.
"(We'll find out) when we find out," he said. "I think Mike Tomlin said it best yesterday. He'll get there when he's there and we'll address those issues when he arrives."
On Thursday morning, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Steelers would not rescind Bell's franchise tag, adding the star back would play for Pittsburgh this campaign, "it's just a question of when."
Bell would lose out on $855,000 in game checks each week he sits out. Because he has not signed the franchise tender, he is not under contract and therefore cannot be fined. The 26-year-old would need to report by 4 p.m. ET Saturday to get paid for Sunday's contest.
"If memory serves me, I said Le'Veon has every intention to make this the best season of his career," Bakari said of his comments this summer. "That has not changed. That's his intention, to make this the best statistical season of his career."
It would seem impossible for Bell to have his "best statistical season" ever if he missed games.
It was noted to Bakari that he said over the summer that Bell's plan wouldn't change from last year (when he reported right before the season) unless something unexceptional happened.
"Well there you go. We had something exceptional to occur," he replied.
In response to Bakari's comments, the Steelers released a statement to NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala.
"We are not going to discuss any conversations through the media. If Adisa would like to talk further, he has the phone number to our offices," the statement read.
If Bell skips games, James Conner is in line to take over the lead-back role in Pittsburgh.
"What do you do? Here's a guy who does't give a damn, I guess so we'll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this," Ramon Foster said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's making seven times what I make twice as much as Al (Villanueva) is making and we're the guys who do it for him."