Le’Veon Bell didn’t report to the Steelers by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, which means that barring an attempt at the transition tag this offseason, Pittsburgh will likely wave goodbye to the running back and pocket the compensatory selection in 2019. While it’s uncertain what, exactly, Bell’s financial ceiling will be—trust us, players will be watching to see what happens—there’s no doubt that there will be competition for his services.
A few teams are flush with cap space and will need to make a splash. Absent a transcendent pass-catching back in the draft, or the time to develop one, we have a few clubs in mind.
Here are our early odds for the Le’Veon Bell chase, coming to a theatre near you in just a few months…
Oakland Raiders (3–1): I think that Jon Gruden’s rebuilding plan is going to have to be tailored just a bit this offseason to accommodate both the bewildered fan base they’re leaving behind and the curious one they’re inheriting. The Raiders will have almost $90 million in cap space, and thanks to Gruden, not a whole lot of home grown stars to extend. That leaves room for a few outlandish financial maneuvers. Oakland needs something to pacify Derek Carr, who looks desperate to escape his current situation. A running back safety valve, whose receiving ability can transcend even the most broken concepts, would be a nice start.
New York Jets (7–1): From where it stands right now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jets part ways with Todd Bowles and place general manager Mike Maccagnan on thin ice. A general manager on the ropes spends money like there’s no tomorrow (because, sometimes, there isn’t) and it wouldn’t be hard to reason that Bell may be good for Sam Darnold. At the moment, the Jets have the second-most projected cap space in football for 2019, without much else to spend it on. The 2019 free agent class is dismal, especially at wide receiver where the team also needs help. The next best upgrade is a hybrid back who can jolt the roster and open up the offense. Any reasonable evaluation of the 2018 Jets by a new head coach would show that the abandonment of their running game was a huge detriment to Darnold’s progress in 2018.
Buffalo Bills (20–1): The end of the LeSean McCoy era is coming, and Bell would give the team a similar dynamic and has played a similar brand of football. There’s certainly a theme developing here (teams with cap space and young quarterbacks), but Sean McDermott’s third year is going to need to produce some tangible results. Once the Bills spend heavily on offensive line help, Bell is a smart second move.
San Francisco 49ers (25-1): We didn’t forget about Jerick McKinnon. Nor are we downplaying the hard-charging style of Matt Breida. But Bell adds a similar dimension and the 49ers are loaded with cap space. They are confronting some extensions that might take up that room, but after missing out on their window of opportunity in 2018 thanks to a rash of injuries, they won’t want to miss any chances to make a run at the division in ’19.
New England Patriots (55-1): Could see Bill Belichick waiting out the market and making a call. Obviously, the team wants to develop rookie Sony Michel but Bell would flourish in the James White-type role. Belichick has fawned over Bell in the past and is never closed-minded when it comes to bringing in talent. It would go against his roster building strategy to spend lavishly on a running back, and it would be shocking to see Bell accept something below-market after sitting out the season to avoid the franchise tag.
Not getting this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up for The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.
Now on The MMQB: Jenny Vrentas headlines the magazine’s Future Issue with the deepest profile of Andy Reid we’ve seen yet. … Zach Miller’s run to recovery – an inspirational read from Kalyn Kahler. … MMQB POWER RANKINGS: Which team is more butt, the Jets or the Raiders?
What you may have missed: What’s stopping the Ravens from pivoting to Lamar Jackson? … Does firing a coordinator mid-season really make a difference for the better? DYSFUNCTION IN CLEVELAND: Hue Jackson’s paranoia.
1. What happens now that the Rams-Chiefs game in Mexico City has been moved to Los Angeles?
2. Kony Ealy is on the market again.
3. Terrelle Pryor is on the market again.
4. Hue Jackson is, uh, not on the market again?
5. Quite possibly the strangest football statistic of the season thus far.
6. Demario Davis, a constantly discarded linebacker, is balling out in New Orleans.
7. A pretty significant breakdown of how Sean Payton has used Taysom Hill so far.
Le’Veon Bell’s got his numbers, and he’s betting on himself.