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Steelers won't tag Le'Veon Bell, clearing his way to free agency

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell will be an unrestricted free agent.

The team will not use a transition or franchise tag on Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract standoff, general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday.

"Le'Veon is still a great player. We can't afford to use any other type of tags," Colbert said. "Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

Bell, who turned 27 on Monday, has posted three 1,000-yard seasons and earned three Pro Bowl selections since entering the league in 2013. He sat last season rather than collect $14.5 million under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, when a long-term deal with the Steelers could not be reached.

In Bell's absence, second-year back James Conner emerged as a reliable starter. He finished the 2018 season with 973 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Using the transition tag seemed unlikely, but the Steelers could have used that tag -- expected to carry a one-season value of $9.5 million to $14.5 million -- in a sign-and-trade scenario.

Sources recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are tired of the drama with Bell and "have no desire to sign him to a long-term deal or place the transition tag on him with the intention of keeping him for one more season."

The NFL's new league year begins March 13.

Bell, in 62 NFL games (all starts), has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns on 1,229 carries, also catching 312 passes for 2,660 yards and seven scores.