PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have informed Le'Veon Bell that they will apply the franchise tag to him for the second consecutive year in the absence of an unlikely deal by Tuesday's deadline, Bell told ESPN.
The Steelers have increased last year's long-term contract offer but Bell has adjusted his contractual floor to $14.5 million per year to align with his running back tag. He won't play for a contract that averages less annually, he said.
"We're not coming to a number we both agree on -- they are too low, or I guess they feel I'm too high," Bell said. "I'm playing for strictly my value to the team. That's what I'm asking. I don't think I should settle for anything less than what I'm valued at."
Bell said he wasn't bluffing when he told ESPN in January that he'll contemplate retirement if asked to play on the tag another year. All options are on the table for Bell, who doesn't plan to sign a tag any time soon and would likely skip training camp once again.
"I just have to decide if I'm going to play when the time comes," Bell said.
Bell, 26, confirmed he turned down last year's contract offer worth $42 million over the first three years with an average of $13.3 million over the life of the deal. Even his mom wanted him to sign it. Bell almost did.
Since then, the Steelers are closer but not quite where Bell wants them to be with an offer -- though Bell said both sides are negotiating in earnest.
Bell plans to stick to his number -- which he isn't revealing -- and is accounting for everything. Asked about his criteria for assessing that worth, Bell explained:
He's putting up more yards per game than any NFL player (his career average of 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game is the best since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger).
He plays every down and basically fills the role of three backs.
His presence keeps the defense off guard because he can line up anywhere on any play, "causing constant mismatches every single down," he said.
He's an elite pass-blocker and No. 2 receiver.
The Steelers are undefeated when he gets 25 or more carries.
His game will age well because he makes plays not solely off athleticism, but "with my mind," he said.
"I'm the one to bet on myself. And I'll do it again," Bell said. "I understand how the Steelers do contracts. Last year, I was pounding the table on guaranteed money. That's not the case. If I'm not getting guaranteed money, I want a lot more up front. ... It's year-to-year with the Steelers. Essentially if I sign a four- or five-year deal, I'm playing four or five franchise tags.
"Earlier I said I felt we would get one done, and this year we are a lot closer than last year. In good spirit, I feel we can get something done. But unless something drastic changes, it won't be [this week]."
Bell is part of the "Killer B's" trio for the Steelers, alongside quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown, whose long-term contracts combine to pay about $37 million per year. Bell wants to join them.
"Both of those guys got what they deserved," Bell said. "I feel I'm next in line."
Bell tweeted Monday evening that he wants "nothing more than to finish the rest of my career" in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh: the city that took in a 21-year old kid from small-town Ohio, the city I battled thru adversity in, the city that I became a man in. I love everything about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I want nothing more than to finish the rest of my career in Pitt! #26Forever pic.twitter.com/mhs2ikpK71
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) March 6, 2018
Bell believes the Steelers understand his worth but he senses his negotiations are viewed through the prism of the running back market, in which Atlanta's Devonta Freeman is the game's highest paid at $8.25 million per year. Freeman has averaged 96.9 yards from scrimmage per game over the past three seasons.
Bell said the constraints of the running back market aren't his doing and don't encapsulate his profile as a player.
"They are using it as me being compared to another running back or my status or what Devonta Freeman has. I can't control what he's done on the field," Bell said. "I only can control what I think I'm worth and what I've done on the field. That's where the problem lies. 'Freeman's making this, we can't give you this.' ... To me, that's not fair. I didn't sign Devonta's deal. That's the position I'm in. I want to make my own decision."
That decision will get bigger if he finds himself without a deal in late July. Bell said the Steelers might see him in Week 10, just in time to pick up his accrued NFL season.
"It'd definitely be hard to pass up," Bell said of the $14.5 million.