Sources: Steelers thought they'd reach long-term deal with Le'Veon Bell by deadline

Are the Steelers framing Bell as the bad guy? (2:10)

Michael Smith feels like the Steelers are trying to "play" Le'Veon Bell and his agent against each other, while Jemele Hill finds it interesting that the proposed salary was leaked. (2:10)

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers believed they were close to securing a long-term contract with Le'Veon Bell as July's franchise-tag deadline ran down, but the star running back declined the team's offer, sources told ESPN.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday that Bell nixed an offer "at the last minute," even though team officials thought they had come to terms with his agent on a contract paying more than $12 million annually over five years.

The Post-Gazette had earlier tweeted, "Exclusive: The Steelers and Le'Veon Bell's agent had agreed on a five-year deal. Then, Bell turned it down."

Bell's agent, Adisa Bakari, said he and his client never had any agreement with Steelers. "All stories to contrary are false," Bakari told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The two sides were trying to hash out a long-term deal before the July 17 deadline expired for players with franchise tags to sign extensions. Instead, Bell skipped training camp and hasn't signed his $12.1 million franchise tender.

Bell told ESPN after the deadline expired that "I feel I'm worth more than what they are offering me," but that he would play a full season in 2017. Bell could report to the team as early as next week, though the team has maintained it isn't sure exactly when he will return.

After averaging nearly 130 yards from scrimmage per game over his first four seasons, Bell could become the league's highest-paid running back over the course of a long-term contract. That honor belongs to Atlanta Falcons back Devonta Freeman at $8.25 million per year.

Bell also considers himself an elite receiver, with at least 75 receptions in two of the past three seasons. The way Bell sees it, his hybrid abilities warrant a bigger market.

Bell rapped on one of his mixtapes in 2016, "I'm at the top and if not I'm the closest. I'ma need 15 a year and they know this." Perhaps that wordplay is proving true.