Photo: Andy Lyons (Getty)

If it appeared to some of his teammates a few weeks ago like Le’Veon Bell’s holdout would only last as long as the preseason, and all the Steelers would have to do was wait for him to blink, instead of paying him what he deserves as the engine and workhorse of his team’s offense and one of the best players in football, it is now time to adjust those expectations:

Possibly no position in American professional sports history has seen its value get wiped out by managerial cynicism quite like running backs in the NFL. Bell was one of the top backs in the NFL throughout his rookie contract, and as a crappy reward the Steelers have used the franchise tag twice now to keep him in town without giving him the kind of long-term job security that would protect him against devastating injury, which is very much an occupational hazard of a gig as punishing as NFL running back. In a normal industry—or, for that matter, in a slightly less crooked and insane American professional sports league—a top performer like Bell would have the option of setting his own priorities for security and compensation, and negotiating without the burden of structures that load all the leverage to his previous employer.

But NFL teams know they can snag four of the best six or so years of a running back’s career via the rookie pay scale, and the Steelers are exploiting the franchise tag to run out his remaining prime years without Bell ever having been compensated for his importance to the team. Bell wants to be paid what he’s earned with the Steelers, and his willingness to leave a fat Week 1 paycheck on the table in order to get it shows how much he means business.