Written by: George Haraktsis
The tension between the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell boiled over when the running back did not report to begin the year, despite the assumption from the team and fans that he would. Instead, the star running back is sitting at home, avoiding signing his franchise tag, while his teammates publicly berate and bash him. Bell has not been happy with how his contract negotiations have been handled this off-season, and since he can no longer sign an extension with the Steelers, he’ll presumably elect to sit out until week 10 of the 2018 season. For players on the franchise tag, Week 10 is the deadline for when one will have to show up to accrue a year of service time. If Bell misses this deadline he will not be eligible for free agency, so we should see him by this date at the latest.
While the over $800,000 per week fine is a hefty one to pay for Le’Veon, it might be worth the price. The Steelers planned on running Bell into the ground this season, feeding him with touches game after game. If he waits until week 10, his risk of injury decreases and the wear and tear on his body will be significantly less. This gives him a much larger chance at that ground-breaking contract in free agency he’ll be seeking. Bell doesn’t want to be just the top paid RB in the league, but one of the top-paid offense players.
If all goes as planned for Bell he’ll sit out until week 10, sign his tag, play out the year, and ride off into the free agency sunset with his money bags in tow. As for the Steelers, they’ll be left with a compensatory pick, a third-rounder at best for Bell.
But now there is news that Steelers might take a different approach and decide to trade the star back. It’s a long-shot, due to the fact that any team acquiring him at this point would not be able to extend Bell until the off-season, but it would be the best way for the Steelers to maximize his value at this point. So what franchise has the appropriate funds, trade capital, ideal situation, and balls to trade for and then sign Bell? Let’s find out.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco should be the early favorite to trade for Bell. The 49ers currently have the third most cap space in the NFL at almost $41 million, so they could certainly absorb Bell’s monstrous $14 million cap hit this season while still having enough cap space in 2019 to sign him to the deal he’s looking for in 2019. They just lost starting running back Jerick Mckinnon for the season due to an ACL tear and have a potential out in his deal after this season. Bell would slide into Kyle Shanahan’s offense perfectly and would form an imposing duo for years to come with newly signed QB Jimmy Garoppolo. This deal would make too much sense for the 49ers.
Bell would be walking into his most ideal situation out there with San Francisco. If the 49ers are trading for him at this point, they are basically committing to paying him whatever he wants. So he’ll be getting his money. He’ll also be playing behind a solid offensive line and with one of the best young and upcoming QBs in Jimmy G.
But the most enticing reason has to be head coach Kyle Shanahan, one of the most creative young minds in the NFL. Shanahan knows how to utilize backs with Bell’s skill set, and Bell is the best at what he does. It would be a match made in heaven.
The 49ers also have a draw to them that goes past football. Bell would be playing in California, more specifically San Francisco, which is a huge step up in weather when compared to Pittsburgh. San Fran is also the tech capital of the United States. If Bell wants to continue a successful business career after he hangs his pads up, San Francisco would certainly be a great spot to do so.
Overall, San Francisco is the spot that makes the most sense for both sides of the equation, especially for Bell from a financial and football standpoint.
Not a team on many peoples’ radar, but the Houston Texans should not be slept on. Like the 49ers, the team has plenty of money to throw around with over $27 million in cap space in 2018. Unlike the 49ers, their QB Deshaun Watson is on the second year of his rookie deal, so money should not be an issue for the time being. The Texans have Lamar Miller currently as their starter, but he has been a disappointment since signing with the team in free agency. With a potential out in Miller’s contract after this year, Bell would be an ideal replacement. He would pair fantastically with Watson and would join a stable of young offensive stalwarts in Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
As for why Bell would sign a contract, Houston has put together a very talented roster on both sides of the ball. The defense has J.J. Watt coming back, along with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, and signed Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. The defense should look great.
Bell would also have a chance to line up alongside Deshaun Watson and play with one of the best receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins. Head coach Bill O’Brien would find ways to utilize his skill set beside these stars and get the most out of Bell’s talent. And while Houston is not San Francisco, the business opportunity and weather is still fantastic. If Bell wants to win a title while getting paid, this team would give him his best shot at a Super Bowl title from any franchise on this list.
Bell makes sense for the Colts, not only because of Colts-related posts Bell has liked on Instagram, but because of the situation. The Colts have had only two 1,000 yard rushers since 2007 and now have starter Marlon Mack ailing with a hamstring injury. They need to find a running back to pair alongside Andrew Luck or they will risk wasting the young quarterback’s talent. They have the appropriate amount of money to give Bell this season, if they trade for him, and next year, with over $41 million and $71 million in cap space in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He would also fit in well in new head coach Frank Reich’s system, one that loves to utilize its running backs. It makes a ton of sense for the Colts, but how about Bell?
While I don’t think Bell would hate landing with the Colts I don’t think he’d be in love with the idea. Yes, he liked plenty of Colts-related posts, but that doesn't mean he wants to play for them. Players do that stuff all the time! If he does sign, it would be for two reasons: Andrew Luck and money.
Luck is a generational talent and one of the smartest quarterbacks to ever play the game. When healthy, he is one of the best signal callers in the league and can absolutely transform Bell’s career. The Colts can also pay Bell whatever he wants with all the money they have laying around. If Bell really wants to play with Luck and really likes money, this is the spot for him.
But the team has its holes and it would make a ton of sense for Bell not to re-sign there. The Colts have a terrible offensive line, which could easily result in injuries for Bell. An unpredictable owner in Jim Irsay, and are not close to competing any time soon with one of the worst rosters on both sides of the ball outside of Luck. If Bell wants to avoid injury and compete for a title he should look elsewhere.
New York Jets
The Jets need help all across the board. They need a premiere offensive weapon and have the funds to acquire one like Bell, with close to $19 million in cap space this season and a projected $89 million in 2019. The Jets have not had a 1,000 yard rusher since Chris Ivory in 2015, and he just barely made it. Bell would immediately inject life into this offense and would provide young QB Sam Darnold with a shoulder to lean on early in his career. This move would immediately sky-rocket the Jets back into relevance and help them take another step at usurping the Patriots. If the Jets could agree to a trade and secure an extension with Bell, they would be dumb to pass up on the opportunity.
On the other hand, this might be the worst scenario for Bell from a football perspective. The Jets have a poor offensive line, and a very young and raw quarterback to boot. They lack any weapons outside of Robby Anderson, so the entire workload would be on Bell’s shoulders. The only reason I could see Bell signing a contract in New York is that he really does only care about money. Bell would receive unbelievable exposure in the New York market, making his earning potential outside of football huge. The Jets would also have to offer him the largest contract out there to play in the green and white.
While New York is the most financially lucrative option out there, Bell would have to sacrifice winning and production to play here. If he cares anything about football he would stay away, but he clearly wants his money.