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If Le’Veon Bell wants $14.5 million per year, Steelers should pay him

The big news in the world this week is that a guy who likes to play around on social media went to a summit meeting in Singapore.

No, it wasn’t Le’Veon Bell.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have done more negotiating than Bell and the Steelers.

It’s been a nuclear spring and summer between the two sides when it comes to Bell’s contract, but there might be some middle ground.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Bell is asking for $14.5 million a year. If that’s true, the Steelers should sign him to a long-term deal before the July 16 deadline. If they don’t, he would play for $14.5 million under the franchise tag in 2018 and most likely become a free agent.

Now the NFL Network had reported in March that Bell wanted $17 million a year, and within the last week Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network mentioned that number again.

If Bell still wants $17 million a year, the Steelers should get one more year out of him and let some other team pay him that kind of money while surrounding with him very little talent.

If Bell is willing to “settle” for $14.5 million a year, the Steelers should sign him. If they’re prepared to pay him that much this year, why not pay him that much for a few more years and give themselves a legitimate shot at a championship as long as Ben Roethlisberger plays.

Bell probably won’t go down in history as one of the most beloved Steelers of all time. He doesn’t seem to care about winning a championship as much as Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown do. But it would be a lot harder to win another championship without him, and if he really has come down from that ridiculous $17 million number, the Steelers have to meet him halfway.

Let’s think back to the dark period of Steelers running backs around 2012 and 2013, which not coincidentally were 8-8 seasons.

Jonathan Dwyer was the Steelers’ leading rusher in 2012 with all of 623 yards. His career-long run of 76 yards came the season before, but that also was the unfortunate lasting image of his career, as his gut bounced in front of him during that entire run as if he tucked the football into his jersey. Not a pretty sight.

Isaac Redman ran for a career-high 479 yards in 2011 and 410 yards in 2012. He had his moments, including catching the game-winning touchdown pass in a victory at Baltimore that ultimately won the AFC North in 2010. But he was never the long-term answer.

The Steelers still had Rashard Mendenhall in 2012, but he wasn’t the same after tearing his ACL at the end of the 2011 season. He ran for only 182 yards that year and was guilty of two of the Steelers’ eight fumbles in a loss at Cleveland. Mendenhall was suspended later in the season for not showing up at Heinz Field for a game in which he was inactive, and the two sides parted ways after the season in an ugly divorce.

The Steelers infamously started the 2013 season 0-4. That was Bell’s rookie year, but he missed the first three games with a foot injury. The Steelers’ leading rushers in the first three games were LaRod Stephens-Howling, Felix Jones and Dwyer.

Do we want to re-live those days?

Bell ran for 860 yards in 13 games that year. Steelers fans often wonder what would have happened if Bell were healthy for the 2014 playoffs, the 2015 playoffs and the 2016 AFC championship game. But it’s also fair to wonder if the Steelers would have lost their first three games of 2013 had Bell been ready to go. Remember they came within a missed Ryan Succop field goal of making the playoffs in 2013 despite their 0-4 start.

Let’s not play the what-if game in 2019 and beyond if the Steelers fall just short of the Super Bowl and Bell is in another uniform. If Bell really is OK with $14.5 million a year, that is.

If Bell signs a long-term deal before the July 16 deadline, he presumably would show up to training camp. That could turn into an extra regular-season win for the Steelers if Bell is in game shape in Week 1. Here’s another what-if: Had Bell been a little sharper at Chicago in Week 3 last season, the Steelers would have taken care of that inferior opponent, finished 14-2 and dodged the Jaguars in the playoffs. But Bell was still shaking off the rust after skipping every offseason activity.

Signing Bell to a long-term deal carries some risk. Not until 2017 did he get through an entire regular season and postseason uninjured. Looking at it another way, however, the Steelers would give themselves a good chance to lock up the 26-year-old Bell through the prime of his career. Running backs can age quickly and you never know when that decline is going to come.

Assuming Fowler’s report is true and Bell has come to his senses, for $14.5 million a year, and maybe a little less than that against the salary cap in 2018, the Steelers could have Bell at least until he reaches his age 30 season.

And if they’re not willing to pay that much, some other team will.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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