PITTSBURGH -- At age 25 and fresh off a first-team All-Pro season, Le'Veon Bell is putting his own football future in question.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back told ESPN that he's prepared to sit out a season, or even retire, if franchise tagged for the second consecutive year.
"I hope it doesn't come to that, but I would definitely consider it," he said before Thursday's practice.
Bell played on a $12.1 million franchise tag in 2017, and that number is projected to increase to around $14.5 million for next season. Teams can tag a player between Feb. 20 and March 6, after which they would have until July 16 at 4 p.m. ET to work out a long-term contract.
"Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I'm not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I'm not getting what I feel I'm valued at."Le'Veon Bell
Last July, Bell turned down a long-term contract that reports said was worth up to $30 million in the first two years because he felt the team didn't value his full skill set.
Asked what the Steelers should do this offseason, Bell said simply: "Value me."
"Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything," Bell said. "I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I'm not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I'm not getting what I feel I'm valued at."
Bell rushed 321 times for 1,291 yards and caught 85 passes for 655 yards, along with 11 total touchdowns, in 2017. Bell has 7,996 total yards through 62 career games, which is the most of any NFL player over that span since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, outdistancing Eric Dickerson (7,842), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Bell said he would "probably be done" with football if he did sit out 2018.
"It will eventually come down to me playing on the tag or not," Bell said. "They tag me again, it will be me [saying], 'OK, do I want to play on the tag or do I not want to play on the tag?' That's what it comes down to. If I was a free agent and they let me go, be a free agent, then yeah, I'm going to go explore free agency, test the market."
Bell is comfortable with his legacy in the game and makes clear he cares more about setting a precedent for running backs than earning a few extra million dollars. From his patient running style to his business approach, Bell is drawn to doing things differently, he said, and the birth of his daughter last year has become a factor for him to consider.
"I've made a lot of money, I'm happy where I'm at, I've got a good family -- I don't really need to play football," said Bell, who has made around $16 million for his career. "Right now, I'm just kind of doing it because I love it. Now, I've done everything but own a Super Bowl ...
"I don't necessarily care about the money aspect of it. I just want to be valued where I'm at. If I am playing this game, I want to set standards for all the other running backs behind me, like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, guys like that. I'm a guy they can kind of look at. I feel I can do that. I'm in a position where I can do that, and I'm going to do it."
Later Thursday, Bell took to Twitter to further emphasize that his focus is on winning the Super Bowl, not what happens next year.
I'm trying to win a super bowl...I can care less about what happens after this season...my biggest thing I'm focused on is this team I'm on right now, playing for/with my brothers, & bringing back a 7th ring! what happens next year is irrelevant to my goals— Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) January 11, 2018
Asked about leaving a productive career on the table, Bell cited his favorite player growing up, Barry Sanders, who retired with good years left in his legs.
Sanders played 10 years. Bell has played five. The years are irrelevant, Bell said.
"It's about leaving a legacy. People will always remember what you did," Bell said. "That's why I run the way I run. I feel like I wanted to run differently than everybody else did. And I want to do things that everybody else hasn't done. That's how I've envisioned everything going forward."
Bell hopes that vision includes a long championship career in Pittsburgh -- but on his terms.
"I want to be here, finish my career here," Bell said. "But if not, I'll just handle it however I've got to handle it."