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A no-show by Le’Veon Bell would make his 2019 transition tag significantly higher

The strategy by Le'Veon Bell and his agent remain a question as the deadline for the running back to hit free agency this offseason is quickly approaching.

The CBA provision that potentially prevents the Steelers from re-tagging running back Le’Veon Bell at $14.54 million if he fails to show up in 2018 carries a more clear limitation regarding the transition tag for 2019.

Article 10, Section 15(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement provides as follows: “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.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, if Bell doesn’t report in 2018 (and thus makes zero dollars and zero cents), the application of the transition tender would guarantee a 20-percent raise over Bell’s 2017 salary. That’s $14.54 million, the amount of Bell’s franchise tender in 2018.

In contrast, if Bell reports by next Tuesday, his transition tender for 2019 (due to his diminished earnings for 2018) would be in the range of $9 million to $10 million, the expected standard amount for the running back transition tender. So it would become significantly more expensive for the Steelers to apply the transition tender to Bell in 2019, if he doesn’t show up in 2018.

Ultimately, the transition tag is irrelevant, because the Steelers wouldn’t match any offer sheet that Bell would sign with another team. But the mere application of the transition tag by the Steelers would consume significantly more cap space if he doesn’t show up in 2018 than it would if he does. Which makes it even less likely that the transition tag will be in play, if Bell doesn’t show up by next Tuesday.