The Le’Veon Bell Era in Pittsburg is unofficially officially over with the 26-year-old running failing to report back to the team by November 13, 2018. And with it, he must forfeit the rest of the season, meaning he won’t play a single snap of football for the Steelers this season.
Bell’s holdout means he will now hit free agency as a 27-year-old running back, which is not the best of situations for him because 27 is considered the downside of a prime for a running back and those do not have great market value.
Bell wanted to be rewarded for what he believed to be fairly and took a risk, leaving $14.5 million on the table this season by protecting his body and not playing. Now he will be looking for top dollar at his position, and perhaps even more.
Back during the summer of 2017, he talked about wanting to be compensated as a running back and wide receiver.
“I’m arguably the top running back in the NFL and the No. 2 receiver on the Steelers, even though I play running back,” Bell said, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Their career receiving total vs. mine, they don’t have more yards than me.”
Todd Gurley’s four years, $60 million ($45 million guaranteed) is where everyone will look to, and no doubt where Bell would like to start talks. And it’s not hard to see why he stands on this.
In 62 career games over five seasons, the 26-year-old has 7,996 total yards from scrimmage and 42 total touchdowns. His best season was back in 2014 when he compiled 2,215 yards, 11 scores, zero fumbles, and 5.9 yards-per-touch. And in his last two season, Bell put up 1,884 yards and 1,946 yards, respectively, along with 20 total touchdowns.
Many believe that he is Gurley’s biggest threat for the title of “best running back in the game” so Bell feels it’s the fair market value.
But Gurley is more than two years younger than Bell and signed his extension when he was 23. In addition, Gurley has had no problems with behavioral issues or suspensions like Bell, instead, being a true team player with virtually no ego. And 62 games in five seasons is missing nearly 25% of each year.
And now, Bell will be looking to make up the $14.5 million he gave up. Or at least it would only make sense because if he doesn’t come close to recouping all that, the holdout did more damage than he could have envisioned. And it’s likely that he won’t get it back because it’s hard to do.
The price tag will be absurdly high for a 27-year-old running back that has accumulated 1,541 touches since 2013. And because James Connor is having a better season this year than Bell had last, teams will look harder at him because you can argue it takes away a little from Le’Veon’s success.
And when you combine Bell’s checkered past with the Steelers success without him, and the fact that the best teams are succeeding with running backs found in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft who require exponentially less money, it may devalue him.
But he’s still an elite player, and unlike Connor, Bell has perennially performed like this even with all the tape on him. There’s something to be said about that.
And considering his talent plus the one year of freshness he brings with, there will be a line of suitors interested in him. Whether they offer what he wants is another question. But teams will want to talk, and odds were recently released for his next landing spot.
Updated odds on which team Le'Veon Bell will be on for Game 1 of the 2019 regular season (@betonline_ag):
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) November 13, 2018
The Steelers are down on the list, and it’s unlikely that we will see Bell back in the black and gold. The relationship between Bell and the team reached a tipping point this season, and there doesn’t appear to be any way they can reconcile their differences. Plus, the Steelers have James Connor, who is younger and cheaper, balling at the moment.
So, everyone needs to look ahead, and the odds have some intriguing landing spots for Bell. And when thinking of the right situation for him, we must consider cap space and need, which immediately rules out the Green Bay Packers.
They will have the cap space needed (estimated $42 million), but have historically never taken advantage of it during the ‘Aaron Rodgers Era.’ The front office has not gone out to either sign or trade for top talent, even with the resources available, and it’s hard to see them making an exception for Bell.
Plus, they will need to take care of their own players in a couple of years, which will become tougher once Aaron Rodgers’ new contract extension kicks in.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that there isn’t a need to dish out money on a running back when Aaron Jones is proving to be an excellent player. For players with at least 70 rush attempts this season, Jones leads them all with an absurd 6.77 yards-per-attempt this year.
He’s coming off a 15-rush, 145-yard, two-touchdown-game this past Sunday, and it begs the question why Mike McCarthy fails to utilize him more (and another reason why he needs to go).
So, as exciting as an Aaron Rodgers-Le’Veon Bell team-up would be, the Packers should utilize that money to keep their best players and load up on the defense.
The Indianapolis Colts would have been another great spot, but Marlon Mack has become a terrific find for the team, which moves them off as one of the potential favorites. And with loads of cap space available, they should focus on the defense and wide receivers first.
The Oakland Raiders would be a surprise because running back is the last thing they need to focus on.
Jon Gruden has traded away the franchise’s best players to stockpile draft picks and shed cap space. And his handling of everything has created a locker room divide with him and the veterans on the roster. He refused to pay an all-time great defensive player in his prime in Khalil Mack, so spending on a running back who is near the end of his prime would be head-scratching.
Which leaves the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Houston Texans as the three most intriguing (and perhaps best) spots for Bell because both parties would benefit.
The Jets are projected to have over $100 million in cap room available, according to Spotrac, and need to give rookie quarterback Sam Darnold any help they can. He has no running game or anyone to throw the ball to this year and is getting punished for it.
Who better than a top-2 running back in the game that can also line up in the slot? Bell would take tremendous pressure off Darnold which would help his development and improve the offense.
The Eagles are not projected to have cap space available and still must pay Carson Wentz, which makes their odds surprising.
However, it doesn’t hurt to think about it, especially considering how aggressive the Eagles’ front office has been over the last few seasons. They will find a way if they want to.
Besides, the running game is hurting this year with the departure of LeGarrette Blount to the Detroit Lions and losing Jay Ajayi to injury. Adding Bell to a squad that already includes a future superstar at quarterback and an impressive group of pass-catchers, it’s hard not to think of how lethal they can be.
And the Texans need a running back as well. Lamar Miller is a solid back, but he should not be the feature back on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. He would serve as an excellent number two.
Adding Bell could help the Texans take the next step into elite status. Can you imagine Le’Veon Bell with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Will Fuller (whenever he returns), and a good defense?
Someone is going to pay Bell; it’s just a matter of how much he’s willing not to take. But the drama is finally over so we must look forward to free agency to see whether Le’Veon Bell’s gamble will pay off.