Le'Veon Bell is about to get screwed again, both by the Steelers and the system.

The Steelers are expected to apply the franchise tag to Bell for the second consecutive year now that both sides blew through a soft February 20 deadline to get a long-term deal done. A second franchise tender will pay Bell about $14.5 million in 2018. Bell played for the one-year, $12.1 million franchise tender last season; before that, he essentially worked for spare change plus tips under the terms of his four-year rookie contract.

Bell rushed for 1,291 yards last season. He led the NFL with 321 carries. He led all running backs with 85 receptions and finished second to Todd Gurley with 1,946 scrimmage yards. With all due respect to Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the Steelers offense would have twiddled its thumbs through most afternoons if Bell were not there to absorb 25 touches per game.

The Steelers work Bell like a rented wood chipper. But they have been reluctant to lock him into a long-term deal because, you see, workhorse running backs age quickly. Bell is trapped in a circular argument and can't get out.

Bell just turned 26 years old a few days ago, making him young by human standards but edging him into the middle-aged demographic for franchise running backs. The only running backs over age 26 to rush for more than 1,000 yards last season were LeSean McCoy (29) and Mark Ingram (28), and Ingram's early-career workload was moderate, making him a "young 28." Bell has been a plow horse since his rookie season, with a 2015 MCL tear adding some extra wear-and-tear that makes signing him to a long-term contract an even higher-risk investment.

So the Steelers are shrewdly paying him as they go. If they tag him for $14.5 million in 2018, Bell will either grind out another 1,900 scrimmage yards or start to wear down like an old drill bit. If he wears down, the Steelers can just replace him next year. If he posts another All-Pro-caliber season, Bell hits the 2019 free-agent market as a 27-year-old with even more mileage, making him an even riskier investment.