After a year-long holdout searching for the contract he feels he deserves, Le’Veon Bell will finally test the open market. Bell, a former second-round pick, is a two-time All-Pro with 5,336 rushing yards, 2,660 receiving yards, and a combined 42 touchdowns to his name. The five-year NFL veteran spent the entirety of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers but will almost certainly not be back in 2019.
2019 NFL Free Agency Profile: Le’Veon Bell
Bell spent 2018 out of football, but he is among the league’s best backs when he’s on the field. During the 2017 season, Bell recorded a league-high 321 rushing attempts for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. Bell is just as dangerous in the passing game, compiling 85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. This was no one-year fluke, as Bell has been arguably the league’s best running back since 2014.
Signing Bell doesn’t come without risk. At age 27, Bell already has taken an absolute beating during his time in the league. Bell has amassed 1,541 touches throughout his career, which means he’s taken more than his fair share of hits. This has led to some injury concerns with Bell, as an MCL injury limited him to just six games in 2015.
On top of that, Bell has aof violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Bell has already been suspended twice for failed drug tests, and a third violation could garner a year-long suspension. Bell will demand a monster deal, but his injury and suspension history make him a dangerous candidate to sign long-term.
Lastly, the running back position just isn’t that important in today’s day and age. Thanks to series of rule changes over the years, it’s easier than ever to throw the football. To counter this, defenses have started using lighter personnel and linebacker/safety hybrids who are better in coverage.
Because of this, it’s easier than ever for offensive linemen to win at the point of attack. James Conner proved that Bell was replaceable in Pittsburgh, Damien Williams made everyone forget about Kareem Hunt, and C.J. Anderson put up Todd Gurley production when Gurley was battling through a knee injury. Make no mistake, Bell is a great player, but smart teams realize you don’t need a great running back to win football games. The market is saturated with serviceable running backs capable of providing enough of a threat in the ground game. If anything, throwing that type of money into a replaceable position actually hinders your ability to win games.
Any team that wants to sign Bell will need to have a lot of cap space and a backward philosophy. Bell stated many times that he won’t take less money than he feels he deserves. Bell evenover the off-season if he doesn’t get a massive payday.
The most likely fit is the Oakland Raiders. Oakland has a lot of holes on their roster, including the running back position. Without a clear answer in the backfield, head coach Jon Gruden could easily sign Bell and make him a Raider. The Raiders are projected to have just under $73.5 million in cap space, so they could meet any demand Bell makes. Additionally, Gruden doesn’t seem to care for analytics, saying that he’s “ ”. Because of this, it’s conceivable to believe that Gruden wouldn’t mind spending a king’s ransom on a running back.
Other teams in contention are the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. These teams both need a running game and have $98 million and $80 million dollars in projected cap space, respectively. Age finally seems to have caught up to LeSean McCoy and the Bills could look into replacing him with the explosive Bell. Both teams have young quarterbacks, and installing a successful run game is a way to lessen the pressure on these young players. Signing Bell isn’t the most economical thing to do, but these teams have ample cap space and afford a little bit of payroll inefficiency.
Last Word on Le’Veon Bell in Free Agency
Last we saw him, Le’Veon Bell was one of the best, most complete running backs in the NFL. While that was over a year ago, Bell will be 27 at the start of the 2019 season and should still be in the athletic prime of his career. Nobody denies how dangerous he is as both a runner and a receiver, as the longtime Steeler is one of the most natural playmakers in the league.
That said, Bell carries a significant amount of risk and negatives that should make teams want to steer clear. Counting his season-long holdout, Bell has missed 33 of a possible 95 games in his career. He’s only played a full 16-game season one time, has taken an absolute beating on the field and is one drug violation away from a serious suspension. Bell won’t sign for less than superstar money, so teams would be investing a lot of money into a high-risk player.
Additionally, running backs just aren’t that important in today’s day and age. There are countless examples across the league of backup running backs stepping onto the field and perfectly replacing the starter’s production. Just look at what James Conner did in Pittsburgh during 2018. Smart teams know that investing superstar money in the running back position isn’t smart, simply because the market is saturated with serviceable running backs and because defenses are currently worried about stopping the pass. Somebody with a lot of cap space will pay big money for Bell, and only time will tell if that gamble will pay off.
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