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Le'Veon Bell set to report to Steelers during Week 7-8 timeframe

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-10-02 13:00:27

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell told ESPN he is playing football in 2018 and does not expect to be traded.

In fact, he still has hope the team will re-sign him to a long-term contract once his franchise tag is up. Bell is staying away from the team to preserve his body, but a source said Bell is expected to report during the Week 7-8 timeframe. The Steelers are on a bye in Week 7.

Bell plans to be ready for the Week 8 matchup with the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 28 in Pittsburgh and will decide how much practice time he needs accordingly, a source said.

Bell, who is still sitting out while refusing to sign his franchise tender, said he's in prime physical condition and could play football "tomorrow" if he needed. He added he'll be "fully committed" to playing his best for Pittsburgh upon his return.

"It sucks having to sit out football," Bell said by telephone from South Florida on Monday. "I want to play. I want to win games and the playoffs.

"But I've gotta take this stand. Knowing my worth and knowing I can tear a ligament or get surgery at any time, I knew I couldn't play 16 games with 400 or more touches."

Sitting out the entire season was never an option, Bell said. He wants to play for the love of the game and to remind others what he can do, with or without the ball.

"I've gotta show people," he said.

The Steelers are exploring trade options for Bell, though Bell believes he can stay with the team. The Steelers told Bell during franchise tag negotiations that they would transition tag him in 2019, which would set the stage for Bell to negotiate with other teams while Pittsburgh holds his rights. The 2019 transition tag number is expected to be more than $17 million.

Bell's plan to report later this month would not dissuade the Steelers from making a trade that made sense, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The All-Pro, whose 128.9 total yards per game is the highest average over a running back's first five seasons, said he doesn't see a "logical team giving up (a high pick and a player) potentially for someone who could play six games with no guarantee of a long-term deal."

Bell still wants to retire as a Steeler, despite a hectic last month. He said he believes the team will re-negotiate with him, either in the offseason or if they were to rescind the tag, which he doesn't expect.

"I could be naïve or hopeful, but at the end of the day I feel like that's what's going to happen," Bell said about re-signing with the team. "I don't think they really want me gone. That could be me being prideful. But I'm still holding out hope."

The primary reason he's sitting: Bell's $70-million offer from Pittsburgh over the summer contained $17 million in guarantees. That wasn't enough when Todd Gurley and David Johnson received between $31-45 million in guarantees. Bell called the Steelers' $70 million "monopoly money."

Bell knows he's taken a public relations hit by deciding to sit out.

"It's costing me some fans," Bell said. "A lot of people call me selfish but I'm really not. I'm dong it for guys behind me or guys who don't understand what's going on in the business of football. The 22 years I've been playing football, I've always brought value. I don't think the Steelers valued me as much."

Bell also understands why his teammates were not happy with him. But he hopes they can respect his business and plans to talk with players in the locker room upon his arrival. He believes, over time, he'll ingratiate himself with the locker room as a hard worker and good teammate. Bell said he never told players or coaches when he would return.

"I've got a lot of good relationships with players on the team," Bell said. "They probably think I back-doored them. But I think they understand the decision. At the end of the day, they said what they said in the media. I'm not really too upset about it. It was a little disappointing, but I understand their side. When I talk to them, I hope they get that side of it.:"

Sources told ESPN the Steelers would take the position that Bell's transition tag number would only be $11.3 million, which is 120 percent of the salary he'd actually make if he were there for 11 weeks as opposed to the full 17.

Bell and his agent could argue they are entitled to more, and appeal it to an arbitrator, but the Steelers would likely take the position that the "2018 salary" wording in the CBA means $9.41 million if he's on the roster for 11 weeks, as opposed to the full franchise number of $14,544.

Bell weighed all options, including what it would take to offset the $855,000 per week he's forfeiting during missed games on the tag. But Bell believes the risk of playing a full season was too great, and he was prepared to miss games as soon as the team franchise tagged him for the second straight year in March.

Bell believes the Jets, 49ers, Colts, Browns and Eagles would be among teams interested in his services on the free agent market. He'd want to go to a team that values his skill set and winning.

"I know the guaranteed money will be there (in March)," Bell said. "If a team wanted to, they could definitely do what they needed to do to make me happy and satisfied."

Bell said he's been training vigorously in South Florida.

"With football, you need some practice to get your timing own with Ben and the offensive line," Bell said. "Right now, I'm as close as close to year three. I feel strong, explosive, fast. I think the biggest thing for me now is my mental is a lot stronger. I'm a lot stronger than I was."

ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano contributed to this report.

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