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The deadline for NFL teams to sign franchise-tagged players has passed, and Pittsburgh Steelers superstar Le’Veon Bell is set to become a free agent in 2019 after he was not able to reach a long-term deal with the Steelers.

Bell, now 26, is still the top-paid running back in the NFL by a considerable margin, but he’ll make $2.5 million less than teammate Antonio Brown in 2018. According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, Bell turned down a five-year, $70 million offer from the team prior to Monday’s deadline. The Steelers could choose to franchise tag Bell a third consecutive year, but doing so would cost a prohibitive $17.45 million.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reacted to the news on Tuesday, and said he believes Bell could choose to sit out at least a part of the regular season.

“Short-term, I think there’s no question we will not see Le’Veon Bell all summer long. Last summer, he didn’t show up until a week before the opener, and it could be a similar timeline this year – but it also could not be. I think there’s more at stake in this particular year, where basically he could wind up sitting out into the season.

Even though he’d be losing $854,000 a week, I think the ultimate goal here is his long-term preservation, not putting wear-and-tear on his body and making sure that he gets to the 2019 free agent market as healthy as possible.

If we go back to last offseason, I think there were people out there – including Le’Veon Bell himself – who thought he could get $16 million dollars a year on the open market. Because of the franchise tag, he never could get to that spot. I think he’ll be shooting to get that and more once he becomes a free agent in 2019.”

Bell promised fans on Twitter that 2018 will be his best year yet.

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