PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell keeps saying he wants to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers keep saying they want to keep one of the NFL’s best running backs in the fold for years to come.

They have until July 16 to make it happen.

The Steelers placed the exclusive rights franchise tag on the two-time All-Pro for a second straight spring on Tuesday, putting Bell’s long-term status with the club up in the air.

Bell, a two-time All Pro, accounted for 1,946 total yards and 11 touchdowns for the AFC North champions in 2017. Both Bell and Steelers management said after the season they hoped to get a contract extension done quickly, but failed to do so by Tuesday’s deadline for teams to use the franchise tag.

Bell is scheduled to make $14.54 million in 2018 if he signs the franchise tender and the two sides are unable to reach an agreement on a new deal. He skipped offseason workouts and training camp last summer before signing the tender on the eve of the regular season. The absence led to a sluggish start, though he was an indispensable part of Pittsburgh’s offense once again, breaking his own club record by catching 85 passes.

Bell turned down a long-term deal with the Steelers last summer and told ESPN in January he would consider retiring if the Steelers used the franchise tag on him again. He backtracked a bit during the Pro Bowl when he said he believed a new contract was in the works. It was a sentiment echoed by both Steelers president Art Rooney II and General Manager Kevin Colbert early in the offseason.

Four players received the nonexclusive tag: Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Detroit defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, Dallas DE DeMarcus Lawrence, and Los Angeles Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner. They can talk with other teams, but their current team would get compensation if they leave.

The only player given the transition tag was Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller.

WASHINGTON: Kirk Cousins’ time with the team is all but over after Washington chose not to use the franchise tag on the quarterback.

The team has agreed to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs, effectively pushing Cousins into free agency following a tumultuous six years with the club the drafted him. Cousins will be the top free agent available when the league year opens March 14 and should have no shortage of suitors. The 29-year-old Cousins is coming off his third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season.

BILLS: Running back Chris Ivory agreed to a two-year deal with Buffalo two weeks after he was cut by Jacksonville, two seasons into a five-year deal.

PANTHERS: The team reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with Pro Bowl kicker Graham Gano. Terms were not announced.

OFFICIATING: Referees Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette are retiring. One of the replacements will be former back judge Shawn Hochuli, Ed’s son. The other is former side judge Alex Kemp.

SALARY CAP: The league’s salary cap will be $177.2 million, more than $10 million above last season.

While the cap went up from $167 million, it did not surge the way it did the previous year, increasing by nearly $12 million.