PITTSBURGH -- The thought of Le'Veon Bell entering the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room at any time this season -- or perhaps ever again -- is almost laughable right now.
The report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Steelers are now listening to trade offers is the latest development in a story trending toward a quick and painless divorce, if it hasn't happened already.
Both sides appear to be moving on, at least mentally. That the Steelers are open for business would only reinforce that belief.
Let's just say it: It's over. It certainly feels that way.
Bell is on jet skis and hosting album release parties in South Florida. Even if he were to get football-ready, does returning for the final seven weeks of the year make much sense for him right now? He needs to show up by Week 11 in order to play at all this year. A small-sample performance for a team that has been working 10 weeks without him could destabilize his free-agency outlook.
The last image of Bell on the field is as an All-Pro, and he probably wants to keep it that way. Bell didn't want the full $14.5 million tag, so he might just be ready to ride out his absence all the way to 2019.
The Steelers don't want to go through this again next year, and Bell knows that. The team has options if Bell continues to sit. Article 10, Section 15 of the collective bargaining agreement states that if a franchise player doesn't play in a league year, the team "shall have the right" to designate him as a franchise player once again, though once that tag is in place, the draft compensation in a trade would drop from two first-round picks to a first- and a third-round pick.
That's a right the Steelers "shall" not take. Bell is making this so difficult that only pettiness from the franchise would keep him around next year.
At that point, it benefits the Steelers to let him enter free agency -- whether he wants to play the final seven games or not -- and recoup a compensatory pick (as high as a third-rounder) for his services.
Or open the phone lines to see what's out there. But a Week 4 trade makes about as little sense as a Week 1 trade unless a desperate NFL team surprises.
That team would inherit this year's franchise tag, which means no negotiating until after the season. And even if Bell's agent could work out the parameters of a deal with a new team behind the scenes, Bell would be that much closer to unrestricted free agency, which is clearly his goal. Bell is a true rent-a-player, only this isn't Paul George in Oklahoma City. The team isn't promised much of anything from a player who hasn't touched a football in an official capacity in more than nine months.
The new team could throw more money on top of this year’s tag or tag him again next year to own his rights, but Bell wants to avoid that scenario. If he wanted, Bell could stiff-arm his new team as if it were Dre Kirkpatrick.
As one NFL general manager told me, teams won't want to A) meet Bell's demands for $15-plus million per year with a big guarantee, B) give up big draft capital for a running back, and C) deal with the franchise tag dynamics to do so. Maybe a team would accept A or B, but all three is asking a lot.
The Bell saga is messy, unprecedented and headed for explosion. Many laughed at Bell when he told ESPN in January that he would potentially sit out the year or retire if tagged again, yet here he is, sitting out the year.
He has always been a man of grandiose ideas. He believes in 3,000-yard seasons and record-breaking contracts.
He's willing to tear down the bridge with Pittsburgh to prove the franchise tag is just as broken.