Mehno: Steelers shouldn’t pay Bell big bucks

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers seem to be heading toward a long-term contract agreement with Le’Veon Bell.

It could cost them about $15 million per season for the services of one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Here’s a better idea: Put the franchise player label on Bell for the 2018 season. Then let him leave.

The Steelers would be better served to invest their Bell stash in defense. That’s the greater need.

The Steelers have a franchise quarterback and a very good line to protect him. Antonio Brown is without peer at the receiver position. Receiving depth got a boost this past season with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s impressive rookie season.

So do the Steelers really need to commit quarterback-like money to Bell, his considerable talent notwithstanding?

The Philadelphia Eagles just won the Super Bowl with perpetually-recycled LeGarrette Blount carrying the ball most often for them. They got in-season help through a trade for Miami’s Jay Ajayi.

The Steelers aren’t sure what they have at running back beyond Bell. Rookie James Conner only carried the ball 32 times before an injury ended his season early. They signed Stevan Ridley off the street when Conner exited.

In addition to taking a gigantic bite out of the payroll, there are other concerns about Bell. He’s been reckless off the field, getting popped for marijuana possession at a traffic stop, then failing to make a follow-up test.

Reports say he was late for a walk-through preceding the Steelers’ only playoff game. Because of the weed break, he’s on the NFL’s discipline docket.

He also has a knack for saying dumb and possibly disruptive things, like the threat to retire he issued in the week before the playoff game.

Bell’s proclivity for saying the wrong thing shouldn’t be a deal breaker when it’s weighed against his talent. But it’s part of a profile that makes a major investment something to consider with caution.

It’s not a question of spending the money. It’s more a matter of how the Steelers will allocate those funds.

With average production at running back, the Steelers ‘ offense will still be formidable with Ben Roethlisberger and Brown leading the way.

The defense won’t be championship caliber without a significant upgrade. The Steelers have drafted too many disappointing linebackers, and now they’ve lost Ryan Shazier to a devastating injury.

While the clock ticks on Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers are fielding a defense that isn’t good enough.

Spend the money on the defense, and let Bell find his fortune elsewhere.

No sale

Looks like all MLB owners are being prudent and staying away from the free agent market.

The last time they all had the same idea at the same time, it was found to be collusion. It cost them more than $200 million and earned decades of mistrust from the Players Association.

Spring training camps are opening this week, and a lot of major talent is unsigned. Everybody needs pitching, but nobody needs Jake Arietta?

Lawyers are warming up in the bullpen.

Moving around

Two of the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are also two much-traveled players.

Randy Moss played for six teams in nine seasons, while Terrell Owens was employed by six NFL teams and one Indoor League team.

This means that both were in constant demand, and that teams didn’t really regret letting them go elsewhere.

New role

The most intriguing move of the offseason is the Steelers’ hiring of Tom Bradley to coach defensive backs.

Can a man who is 61 years old adapt to coaching pro players after a lifetime in college football?

And how long until a player less than half his age drops a, “You don’t understand. This is the NFL” on him?

Mehno can be reached at