The Steelers can tag the versatile Bell for the second straight season in 2018 at $14.54 million or re-sign him. The two sides cannot resume negotiations until the season ends.
"Unfortunately, we were unable to agree to terms on a long-term contract with Le'Veon Bell prior to today's deadline," Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. "Le'Veon is scheduled to play this year under the Exclusive Franchise Tag designation. We will resume our efforts to address his contract situation following the 2017 season."
The franchise tag still has Bell as the league's highest-paid tailback in 2017, with Buffalo Bills star LeSean McCoy the next closest in per-year salary. McCoy averages $8 million on his five-year deal.
Bell has been absent from offseason workouts while recovering from groin surgery. The 25-year-old aggravated a groin injury that kept him on the sideline for the majority of last season's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
The Steelers rode Bell to the playoffs in 2016. He rushed for 1,268 yards (4.9-yard average) and seven touchdowns in 12 games, and caught 75 passes for another 616 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season, becoming the first player in NFL history to average 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game.
Bell set franchise single-game rushing records in the first two playoff games. He racked up 167 yards in a victory over Miami in the AFC wild-card round and bettered that with 170 in the victory over Kansas City in the divisional round.