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Le'Veon Bell has been franchise tagged for a second straight year by the Pittsburgh Steelers. (USA Today Sports)

Le'Veon Bell has been franchise tagged for a second straight year by the Pittsburgh Steelers. (USA Today Sports) Content Exchange

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now made it official: They're placing the exclusive-rights franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell for the second year in a row.

There's still optimism that a long-term deal can get done prior to the July 16 deadline, as the two sides reportedly have made progress in recent days and weeks. But short of that, Bell would have to accept a one-year tender for one year, $14.544 million.

Pair that with the one-year, $12.12 million tender on which he played last season, and Bell could earn close to $27 million in a two-year span — an unheard-of sum in this era for a running back.

But might Bell hold out if no long-term deal is struck? He joined the team at the last possible moment last season, just prior to the start of the regular season, to avoid a fine. His absence, which led to a slow start, was because of Bell's unhappiness over being tagged the first time.

He has talked about sitting out the season — even retiring — but those feel like extreme measures for Bell as he finds himself in his prime at age 26. Don't expect him to sign that tender just yet; it's the multi-year deal that he's seeking.

As for the Steelers, tagging Bell now hurts them in the short term. They're currently more than $8 million in the red against the salary cap and must clear up at least that much space to be in compliance. Bell's 2018 tender offer counts against the cap even though he has not yet signed any deal.

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