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The Steelers now can place the transition tag on Bell after this season, which would allow Pittsburgh to match any offer sheet the running back receives. But it also would be worth somewhere between $9 million and $10 million — at least $4.5 million less than the $14.5 million franchise tag this year that he still has not signed, according to league sources.

Bell must report by the Tuesday of Week 11, or Nov. 13, in order to play this season. If he does, Pittsburgh is not likely to use its franchise tag on Bell again this offseason, since a third consecutive franchise tag would be too cost prohibitive.

But the transition tag is an option that is available to the Steelers that could hinder Bell's ability to shop his talents unencumbered on the open market.

Bell, who forfeits $855,000 for each week he fails to sign the franchise tag, told ESPN on Oct. 1 that he would play football this year and did not expect to be traded.

Bell also said the team had planned on placing the transition tag on him during the offseason and he bought a loss-of-value insurance policy to protect him this year. He is missing games to preserve his health for a long-term contract in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.