Photo: Don Wright (AP)

It’s Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers are about to start their weekly team meeting, and Le’Veon Bell is reportedly nowhere to be found.

So this appears to be a whole big thing now, and one nobody really saw coming. All the NFL scoop hounds and Bell’s teammates believed that he would report to the team in time to play in Week 1, and yet now it is looking increasingly likely that the Steelers will be without Bell for a good chunk of the season.

Bell can stay away from the team without risking his upcoming free agency until Week 10, at which point he would have to finally sign his franchise tender or risk losing an accrued season and opening himself to be franchise tagged in 2019. It’s doubtful that the Steelers would actually tag him for a third time in such a scenario—why would they want to go through this whole ordeal for a third consecutive season?—but failing to sign by Week 10 would also prevent Bell from playing at all this season.

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If Bell’s goal is to make it to next summer while healthy enough to fetch a big contract on the free-agent market, then forgoing more than half a season’s worth of wear and tear before staging a short audition for potential suitors is a pretty sound strategy. It isn’t a cheap one, though. Every week that Bell misses costs him $855,529 of the franchise tender he has yet to sign.

Bell’s holdout extending into the regular season speaks highly of his convictions and his belief in himself; the fact that the NFL is a league in which one of its premier player’s best option for achieving longterm stability is to sit out games in his prime while waving goodbye to $855,529 every week does not speak very well of the way the NFL is constructed.