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Steelers might be better off letting Le’Veon Bell walk

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some tough decisions ahead. After allowing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to walk, the Steelers have to assess the rest of their offseason plans, mainly what to do with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell.

Bell, 25, finished third in the league behind only Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley in rushing, amassing 1,291 rushing yards on 4.0 yards per attempt. All told, Bell went for 11 touchdowns and more than 1,900 all-purpose yards including 85 receptions, second on the team only to Antonio Brown.

On the surface, keeping Bell is a no-brainer. He’s in the prime of his career, remains the most versatile and talented back in the game, and is the central figure in one of the league’s most explosive offenses. However, Bell turned down a five-year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed last July to play on the franchise tag, something he says he wouldn’t be willing to do this time around. Should the Steelers call his bluff and slap the tag on him, Bell would be due $14 million guaranteed this season, all against the cap.

While it’s unlikely that Bell would actually sit out in the regular season, it would all but ensure that he’s gone after this year. The former Michigan State star would hit the free-agent market at 26 and get a host of offers if he maintains health for 16 more games.

The other options are signing Bell to a long-term deal or simply letting him leave now, getting a third-round compensation pick in return. Bell believes that the former is going to happen, telling the media in Orlando for the Pro Bowl that he and the Steelers are making good progress.

“I think where we were last year at this point, we’re a lot further than we were last year. I think we’ll eventually come to an agreement and hopefully everything goes well,” Bell said Wednesday after Pro Bowl practice.

However, Pittsburgh might be wise to say goodbye now. The Steelers only have a projected $2.98 million in cap space for 2018, and if it tags Bell, that would put them approximately $11 million over. Pittsburgh would have to make some cuts, likely including Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell. Even at that, it would b enough to sign a draft class and do little else.

Bell has already been suspended twice in his career for a total of seven games, and sustained a torn MCL back in Nov. 2015. Point is, the superstar is electrifying on the field, but at times has been a headache off it, along with a risky injury history.

Losing Bell would be tough, but the running back class in this year’s draft is deep, and finding help at that position is relatively easy. Bell is a great player, but history says running backs burn out quickly, and with all the other circumstances around this situation, maybe it’s best to part company now.

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