While all 32 NFL teams have returned to the practice field, some of them are a little short-handed. There are injured players, players staying off the field as they fight for new contracts and star players who received the franchise tag.
Chargers pass-rusher Melvin Ingram and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell still have not signed their franchise tags — the only two players not to do so.
Absent a long-term deal before or on the July 15 deadline, it wouldn’t be a surprise if neither participated in organized team activities or mandatory minicamp. History has shown that players in this situation can miss most of training camp, as Chiefs safety Eric Berry did last year. Ingram is more likely at this point to potentially miss minicamp and potentially part of training camp, but no firm decisions have been made.
While not unexpected, it does mean the Chargers and Steelers might not see one of their best players for awhile. Unlike most years, several tag issues were wrapped up early: Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short and Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones all already have extensions. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson have signed their tags and are participating in workouts.
For the Steelers and Bell, neither side seems particularly worried about it. Pittsburgh clearly prioritizes him, and though there hasn’t been an update for some time, it has engaged in some negotiations with him. Bell surely will want to be the highest-paid back on a long-term deal, though he already set to make $12.1 million on a one-year tag. His added ability to catch the ball out of the slot only increases his value.
For the Chargers and Ingram, there might be reason to worry.
The Chargers have identified Ingram ($14.6M on the tag) as a potential face of the defense. Their first major story as an L.A. team likely will be that one of their top players is not in the building. And in the past, the Chargers have struggled to strike deals for players on the tag — Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles are recent examples.
Ingram isn’t nearly the household name Bell is. But he has 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons and only two NFL players have 50-plus tackles and 8-plus sacks over the last two years — Ingram and Raiders star Khalil Mack.
There is the added question of how being in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme will affect Ingram. But unlike Bell, Ingram might have a template for a deal. Jones, who plays the same position, signed a five-year, $82.5-million deal ($16.5M per year) with the Cardinals earlier this offseason. Pierre-Paul signed a four-year, $62-million deal ($15.5M per year), though that might not be a great comparison because he was injured at the time.