According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Pittsburgh Steelers have used the franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell, which means he will not hit free agency on March 14. This is the second-straight year the Steelers have used the franchise tag on him, and it will cost Pittsburgh just over $14.5 million.


The move by Pittsburgh makes Carlos Hyde one of the top running backs scheduled to hit free agency – if not the top running back, depending on who you ask. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has expressed some interest in having Hyde return in 2018 and even said the team planned to meet with his agent at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, all reports have indicated that no deal is imminent.

The Steelers now have until July 16 to complete a long-term extension with Bell. After that, he will have to play under the one-year franchise tag contract and cannot negotiate a new deal until after the 2018 season.

Bell, who played college football at Michigan State, was a second-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2013. During his five NFL seasons, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times (2014, 2016, 2017) and named first-team All-Pro twice (2014, 2017).

Bell has posted 1,200-or-more yards in three of the past four seasons. In 2014, he rushed for 1,361 yards on 290 carries and eight touchdowns. In 2016, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards on 261 carries and seven touchdowns. This past season saw him rush for 1,291 yards on 321 carries and nine touchdowns.

A suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy and a season-ending MCL tear shortened Bell's 2015 season to just six games.