Steelers put Le'Veon Bell talks on hold for draft, free agency

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are putting contract negotiations with running back Le'Veon Bell on hold while focusing on free agency and the NFL draft.

General manager Kevin Colbert said the team will eventually continue the dialogue with Bell's reps, but there's no update on a deal. The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell for the second straight year and have until July 16 to execute a long-term deal.

Asked whether he's still optimistic a deal can be reached, Colbert said, "I think so."

"We're not intentionally ignoring that. More urgent business needs to get taken care of," Colbert said from the NFL owners meetings in Orlando. "We will reassess where that is. He'll reassess where his interests are as well. I anticipate us continuing that process once we get through the free agency period and maybe even through the draft. The draft can change things on both sides."

The draft could solidify other positions or open up more salary cap space, which could affect how the team approaches Bell's $14.5 million franchise tag.

Bell told ESPN in early March that the Steelers upped their offer, but the sides still disagree on terms; Bell is seeking at least $14.5 million per year over the course of a long-term contract. Bell also said he'll consider sitting out training camp for the second consecutive year, or even regular-season games. Bell would need to report to the team by Week 10 in order to accrue an NFL season and hit free agency in 2019.

After averaging 128.9 scrimmage yards per game since the start of 2013 -- the most in NFL history for a player's first five seasons -- Bell says he won't settle for less than what he's worth.

Colbert said rescinding the tag is improbable, but he's hopeful Bell is with the team in late July as they reconvene at St. Vincent College.

"Hopefully Le'Veon comes to training camp. Hopefully he's a part of a winning team in 2018," Colbert said. "We'll react to every situation as it presents itself. But we'll never sit around and talk about what-ifs."

And if Bell doesn't show up to camp?

"He's not under contract [in that case], he doesn't have to show up," Colbert said. "He doesn't sign the deal, then we'll deal with it when it happens. There's nothing to react to."

Part of the holdup is the precedent set in the running back market. The Steelers know Bell is worth big money, but paying him $14.5 million per year would nearly double the annual average salary of Atlanta's Devonta Freeman, who currently tops all backs at $8.25 million. Bell believes he shouldn't be punished for what the market dictates. He's part of a "Killer B's" trio, along with fellow offensive stars Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, whose two contracts pay almost $40 million combined annually.

"Both of those guys got what they deserved," said Bell earlier this month. "I feel I'm next in line."