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Friday Football Footnotes: Let Le’Veon Bell walk and avoid the transition tag swamp | TribLIVE.com
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Friday Football Footnotes: Let Le’Veon Bell walk and avoid the transition tag swamp

Tim Benz
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Doug Benc/AP
Le’Veon Bell, technically still with the Pittsburgh Steelers, might still be seeing a transition tag put on him for the 2019 season. Maybe.

For those thinking the NFL’s transition tag may be a way for the Pittsburgh Steelers to get away from the Le’Veon Bell fiasco with some sort of compensation, you may still be right.

Maybe.

ProFootballTalk.com suggests that any move by the Steelers to sign Bell solely with the intent of trading him would be a violation of the CBA, unless the team is willing to keep him at the transition rate.

Let’s surf through that theory based on what Mike Florio wrote.

“Bell can’t be traded unless and until he signs the transition tender. If he doesn’t sign it, he can’t be traded.”

First off, I don’t think anyone is refuting that Bell would have to sign the transition tag. That’s pretty much assumed, and it has been printed or acknowledged in every account or discussion on the matter that I have seen.

Florio continues.

“The ideal scenario also relies on Bell and (agent Adisa) Bakari not filing a grievance challenging the Steelers’ effort to tag Bell solely to trade him, and not to employ him at whatever the amount of the transition tender would be. (The fact that he skipped all of the 2018 season complicates the analysis, although the better argument seems to be that he’d be entitled to his $14.54 million franchise tender amount from last season.)”

That link goes to a section of the NFL CBA that states: “If any Franchise Player does not play in the NFL in a League Year, his Prior Team shall have the right to designate such player as a Franchise Player or a Transition Player the following League Year, if such designation is otherwise available to the Team, except that the applicable Tender must be made and any 120% Tender shall be measured from the Player’s Prior Year Salary.”

PFT emphasized that last clause. It’s awfully confusing language. It’s almost contradictory. This would probably have to go to arbitration. If skipping a year at a $0.00 salary defaults back to the 120 percent franchise offer ($14.5 million in Bell’s case), doesn’t that essentially make the transition tag null and void? Why then does the transition option even exist if a player had been franchised the year before and didn’t earn a penny?

Florio also states the NFL CBA “expressly requires that any team that extends the franchise or transition tender must have a good-faith intention to employ the player at the amount of the tender.”

If the Steelers were to wind up with Bell on the tender, I don’t know why this would be a problem.

Let’s assume the transition tag does come in at the $9.5 million dollars presumed by the Steelers, as opposed to the $14.5 million that Bakari would chase.

Then the Steelers would be getting Bell at $5 million less than what they were willing to pay him last year.

Despite the presence of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels on the roster, that doesn’t seem like a bad deal to me. Why would anyone assume the Steelers wouldn’t employ him if the tag doesn’t get matched by another club?

Wouldn’t that be a major win for the Steelers to get Bell at a discounted rate from what they offered him last year?

But back to the article already in progress. Fiori offers a scenario.

“The better approach would be to tag Bell, wait for someone to sign him to a long-term deal, match the offer, and then trade him, either to the team that signed him to the offer or someone else. (A trade to the team that signed Bell to the offer sheet would require the express consent of Bell.)”

That doesn’t seem right.

I think what was meant to be written there, is that a trade to the second outside team would need consent, not a trade to the original team with whom he already would have signed an offer sheet.

Otherwise, wouldn’t that be redundant? Why would Bell need to consent to a trade to a team on the terms that he has already approved in writing? Why would he need to approve the compensation going back in return?

And why would a CBA arbiter deem it worse to work a trade-and-sign with initial suitor Team X after the tag is applied than it is to work a trade with a third party after Team X signs Bell to an offer sheet?

That’s counterintuitive. It’s essentially the same action so long as Bell approves the deal to a third party.

Tell ya what. Let’s make it easy. Let him walk.

Whatever compensation the Steelers get isn’t going to be worth the hassle of the arbitration or the risk of tying up $9.5-$14.5 million of cap space again in 2019 while this mess is resolved.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.