On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they will not use the transition tag on running back Le’Veon Bell. This makes Bell a free agent for the first time in his career, after being franchise tagged the last two years.
Bell is one of the best running backs in the league. The last time he played football, in 2017, he had 1,291 rushing yards on four yards per carry. He also had 655 receiving yards on 85 catches. The year before that, in just 12 games, he had 1,268 rushing yards on 4.9 yards per carry and 616 receiving yards. But not only is Bell arguably the best running back in the NFL, he is also young and fresh. He turned 27 years old just this week. In addition, when the 2019 season starts, it will have been over a year and a half since Bell played NFL football.
Bell is a top tier runner, with incredible patience and vision in the backfield. He can also act as a de facto number two wide receiver, catching passes both out of the backfield and from the slot. Bell is even a great pass protector as a running back, never having given up a sack in his five-year career. His greatness as an all-around back makes him worth the guaranteed money he is looking for. Whichever team adds Bell will add a dynamic dimension to their offense.
While any team would benefit from adding Le’Veon Bell to their team, here are his most likely landing spots:
The Colts have an enormous amount of cap space available this offseason, almost $120 million dollars. If GM Chris Ballard wants to immediately put Super Bowl aspirations on a young team that made the divisional round last year, he can sign Le’Veon Bell. An Andrew Luck-Bell combo would be the best quarterback-running back duo in football. Add in a very solid offensive line, receiver TY Hilton and a young but rising defense, and Bell could take this team to the next level.
On the other hand, though, the Colts do have some good young running backs. Marlon Mack, in just 10 starts this season, had 900 yards on 4.7 yards per carry. In two playoff games, he had 194 rushing yards on an astounding nearly 5.9 yards per carry. Indy also has 2018 fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines who was a spark-plug at times this season. Mack and Hines could be a very good one-two punch in the backfield. The Colts might just want to stick with their young backs and allow their extremely promising core to rise together.
This would be a great way for Bell to hand it to the Steelers. Going to their most hated rival, in arguably the biggest rivalry in all of football? And, the Ravens have the talent on the roster to make playoff runs. They have a top two defense, a good offensive line and a young quarterback who John Harbaugh has built the offense around.
Bell would take a lot of pressure off Lamar Jackson and let him play his game. While Lamar was not good against the Chargers in the playoffs, adding a top running back would make teams have to focus on both rushing threats. They could run a true run-pass option (RPO) based offense, with two of the options being Bell running the ball (tough to defend) and Jackson running the ball (also tough to defend). In addition, Jackson showed some poise at the end of last year’s playoff game, making some impressive throws and almost bringing Baltimore back. While he may not be as great a passer as someone like Luck, he complements the team very well. In Baltimore, Bell could get his check, his revenge and (just maybe) his championship ring.
A year after the Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship, their team’s biggest downfall was the lack of a running game. They lost LeGarrette Blount via free agency, Jay Ajayi tore his ACL early in the season and Corey Clement suffered a season-ending injury as well. Ajayi will probably get a deal elsewhere that Philly will not be willing to pay. While the Eagles’ cap situation is far from simple, there is always a way to make room for a player of Le’Veon Bell’s caliber.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson likes having a running back committee in the backfield. That may well be to Bell’s liking. Bell has shown a desire to cut down on his workload in order to increase the longevity of his career. The Eagles already have a potent offense including Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and a top-five offensive line (If Jason Kelce stays). Having Le’veon Bell to lead the backfield, catch passes and block for Wentz could make this the best offense in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
Does it seem like there’s a pattern here? Pairing Bell with a stud, play-making quarterback would make any offense among the best in football. Pairing him with Aaron Rodgers? That would just be unfair. This duo by themselves could take Green Bay back to playoff football and give them a chance at more Super Bowl glory. Bell could take the pressure off Rodgers, something the Packers quarterback hasn’t had since Eddie Lacy’s one All-Pro year.
Aaron Rodgers himself makes a team playoff contenders. Throw in a dynamo at running back, and the Packers would become yet another Super Bowl threat in the NFC.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers seem adamant in getting a star offensive player on their roster. They are connected to Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Le’Veon Bell. Of all three, Bell is the only one they can add without giving up any draft capital or players. He also may be the most valuable of the bunch due to his dual-threat capabilities.
While Bell has already said he thinks the Niners are interested in him, he has not said anything about actually wanting to play for them. This may be because they don’t have a complete roster right now. Even quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, although he signed a $137 million contract, is not exactly proven after 10 career starts. The defense is talented but has a long way to go and there are not many great offensive weapons on the roster. If Bell wants to win now, this is not a very compelling team.
New York Jets
The Jets are another team Bell has been connected with that is a while from winning. However, the star running back has shown interest in signing with New York, so they must be considered. Sam Darnold is a talented quarterback who will do everything in his ability to help his team win. He was erratic last year, but that was the result of youth combined with a subpar offensive line. Darnold certainly has the potential to turn into a great quarterback due to his rare ability to make Rodgers-esque throws.
The Jets timeline does not seem to fit Bell’s, as Darnold would be entering the prime of his career just as Bell would be exiting his. Maybe playing in the Big Apple draws Le’Veon to the Jets, but probably not.
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