Steelers slap franchise player tag on Bell

The Steelers would eventually like to make Le'Veon Bell 'a Steeler for life.' (AP)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers want to make running back Le’Veon Bell a part of the organization “for life.”

The team took an expected but important step in that direction on Monday when they placed the exclusive rights franchise tag on the All-Pro, ensuring that he’ll remain with the team in 2017.

The tag gives the Steelers time to work out a long-term deal with Bell, who could have become a free agent next month. The 25-year-old led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage last season and became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game.

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month the Steelers intend to keep Bell in black and yellow indefinitely.

The franchise tag buys the team time to put together a new deal that will almost certainly make Bell one of the highest-paid running backs in the league.

The Steelers have until July 15 to reach an agreement with Bell on a new contract. If not, he will make the average salary of the top five running backs in the league in 2017.

While Bell has been productive when available, he’s been suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was unable to finish Pittsburgh’s final game of the season in each of the past three years because of injuries.

Colbert said earlier this month the club is not concerned about Bell’s injury issues or maturity going forward.

“We have no reservations about Le’Veon,” Colbert said. “Not his durability or his ability. He’s grown, I think, tremendously off the field. And I think, I hope, he continues to grow in those areas. But there’s no hesitation to having him be with us, hopefully, for his whole career.”