Could Le’Veon Bell leaks be nothing more than a contract negotiating smokescreen?

There are growing reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers are frustrated with running back Le’Veon Bell, who reportedly was a no-show for much of the team’s walk-through ahead of the Divisional Round Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But could all this reported kerfuffle be nothing more than a negotiating tactic to keep Bell’s perceived value down?

Considering Bell is about to become a free agent, it’s not completely unreasonable to wonder if this isn’t the case. On top of that, we already know the running back has an extraordinarily high view about how much he’s worth — a view the Steelers likely cannot afford to share.

Now consider the following, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.

“It’s likely not a coincidence that there are sources in Pittsburgh putting out word that the player who wants to break the bank in free agency isn’t worth as much money as he’d like to think he is.”

He further opines, writing, “Bell remains one of the best running backs in the game, but the Steelers would like the perception to exist that they’re not happy with him, perhaps so that he won’t get his expectations too high for how much he deserves to be paid.”

Smith relates what’s happening now with Bell to what happened with Antonio Brown a year ago, just a month before he and the Steelers signed a contract that made him the richest receiver in the game.

Bell has stated he isn’t adverse to potentially sitting out the 2018 season or even retiring if the Steelers use the franchise tag to keep him locked up again. Clearly, he’s thinking massive, long-term deal or bust. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. What we do know for sure is that the Steelers traditionally do not allow players to dictate demands and get away with it — just ask Mike Wallace.

We’ll continue to keep a close eye on this situation in the next couple of months. There are some teams with deep pockets who would love to add an elite playmaker of Bell’s caliber. He definitely has some leverage here, and it appears the Steelers are doing what they can to engineer some of their own.