Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) plays in an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Don Wright/Associated Press

The Le’Veon Bell holdout continues to get more complex.

According to NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk), Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, didn’t initially realize that Bell could be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender next season even if he sits out the entire 2018 season.

“So what happened was that once that came out, that they’re now digging and reading … trying to understand the language, because there’s a lot of language in the CBA, especially for this particular instance,” Jones-Drew said. “So they’re going back now to really sit down and figure out [the language].”

Jones-Drew is also represented by Bakari. It’s unclear when Bakari may have become aware of the CBA’s language, however:

Bell’s situation, and the corresponding CBA complexities surrounding his status, are getting pretty granular, but here’s where we stand: On Tuesday, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reported that Bell was considering sitting out the entire 2018 season because he would still be eligible to potentially hit free agency without signing his franchise tag this season. 

In layman’s terms, the Steelers can either slap another franchise tag on Bell and be on the hook for something in the ballpark of $25 million this offseason, even if Bell doesn’t play this year, or they can use the transition tag, which will allow Bell to seek offers elsewhere that the Steelers can then match.

The Steelers aren’t going to take the first option. And it’s very unlikely they’d match any offer Bell received with a transition tag given that James Conner has emerged as an excellent player unless Bell wasn’t able to find any lucrative offers in free agency and had to settle for a below-market offer.

That seems unlikely. Holdout or not, Bell remains one of the most talented offensive weapons in football, able to dominate as both a runner and receiver. There will be a team out there willing to pay him top-end money. 

But the wrinkle in Bakari reportedly not knowing that Bell would be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender next offseason is that it calls into question who initially leaked the CBA language that would give Bell the green light to sit out for the year in the first place.

Florio wrote that Thursday’s developments add credence to a theory that the Steelers are the source of the information, adding that “the fact that the team/league is leaking to league-employed reporters that Bell can sit out the full year and still be eligible for the quarterback franchise tender suggests that the team simply doesn’t want him to show up this year.”

Kaboly, meanwhile, seemed less inclined toward that theory or any suggestion that the NFL was involving itself in the situation: 

We’re truly in the weeds when it comes to Bell’s holdout, that much is for certain. Cut through all the noise, however, and the central theme remains that Bell is unlikely to play football in 2018.

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