The Pittsburgh Steelers have themselves a dominant running back in Le’Veon Bell. He will be a free agent and here are five teams that make sense for him.
Le’Veon Bell is a two-time Pro Bowl running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While he wasn’t an All-Pro in 2016, it might have been his best season as a professional. Bell had 1,268 rushing yards for a ridiculous 105.7 yards per game this year. However, he did miss the first four games of the year due to a failed drug test.
Regardless, Bell may very well be the best running back in football. That being said, multiple failed drug tests and a few injuries in his young NFL career have affected his earning potential heading into 2017 NFL free agency.
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When he’s on the field, Bell is a sure thing. However, it will be a gamble for whichever teams antes up the most money for his services. Here are the five NFL teams that make the most sense for Bell to sign with in NFL free agency.
New York Giants
Until the end of the regular season, the New York Giants could not have been worse running the football. Much of that falls on the bland and predictable offensive scheme of head coach Ben McAdoo. Single-back sets did not get the most out of the Giants’ ground game in the slightest.
While Paul Perkins did come on in December, the Giants still finished 29th in the NFL in rushing with only 1,412 yards. For a team that plays in a cold-weather division like the NFC East, that is especially problematic.
Bell could be a solution in the New York backfield. Gaining him in 2017 NFL free agency could make the Giants a sexy pick to reach Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. He would provide the balance to the middling Giants offense as its much-needed feature back.
That being said, there are a few issues that would make it hard for Bell to land with the Giants. New York is not in great shape with the salary cap. The Giants have only $25,820,039 worth of projected cap space.
Given that they have other needs besides tailback to address on offense, Bell couldn’t garner the massive pay-day he wants with the Giants. One may also wonder if he and star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. would result in a clash of personalities. Quarterback Eli Manning wouldn’t know what to do in the Giants locker room.
Dec 25, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) carries the ball for a seven yard touchdown run against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
There are a few middle of the pack teams in the NFL that could pop in 2017. One team in the AFC that fits that mold is the Indianapolis Colts. Now that owner Jim Irsay has a strong general manager in place in Chris Ballard, the Colts can finally surround quarterback Andrew Luck with the talent he needs to contend for Super Bowls.
The Ryan Grigson era in Indianapolis certainly had its misgivings. Indianapolis couldn’t protect Luck up front most weeks. He didn’t have the the defense to bail him out in tough on-field battles. However, the most egregious part of the Grigson era of the Colts was their atrocious running game.
Frank Gore is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, but Ballard needs to get Luck a bell-cow back in his prime not named Trent Richardson. Bell fits that mold and would thrive playing on the turf in Indianapolis. One could argue that playing in the AFC South would extend Bell’s shelf life as a Pro Bowl caliber tailback.
Indianapolis has a great deal of cap space. The Colts can use a projected $55,880,819 to get Luck the help he needs, including signing Bell to a long-term deal. Together, Luck and Bell can bring Indianapolis another Lombardi Trophy before the end of the decade.
The only holdups for Bell to Indianapolis besides him getting slapped with the franchise tag by Pittsburgh are: 1.) Does Bell want leave an outstanding football culture in Pittsburgh for an odd one in Indianapolis? 2.) How does Bell feel about leaving a top-five offensive line in Pittsburgh behind for a shamefully porous one with the Colts?
Oct 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
After a surprising 5-0 start to the 2016 regular season, the Minnesota Vikings faded fast to miss the NFC Playoffs at 8-8. Their offense fell apart at the seams almost immediately and the stout defense of head coach Mike Zimmer couldn’t bail out that sinking ship in Minneapolis.
That being said, Minnesota should be one of the teams that missed the playoffs last season that could get back to them in 2017. The Vikings should be strong again on the defensive side of the ball and have a competent passer in quarterback Sam Bradford.
The best things that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman can do for his team is to invest in rebuilding the offensive line and get Bradford a bell-cow back. The offensive line rebuild is paramount, but getting Bell in the Minnesota backfield would be the best way to get the Vikings back to the NFC Playoffs.
Minnesota has to realize that running back Adrian Peterson has to be on his last leg. His decline has been rapid and won’t garner anywhere near the money Bell could get on the open market. Minnesota is at its best when it can run the football. Bell is an obvious solution for the Twin Cities ground game.
The Vikings will only have $20,428,209 of cap space to navigate this offseason. Bell may really like the football culture in place in Minnesota, but Spielman will have to get really creative with the salary cap spreadsheet to have the resources to land Bell at near-market value.
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) carries the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
If Bell wants to leave Pittsburgh, get paid, and still make the NFL Playoffs, perhaps the best landing spot for him would be the Detroit Lions. Detroit went 9-7 in 2016 and made it into the NFC Playoffs as a wild card team.
The Lions arrived a year early under new general manager Bob Quinn. Detroit saw the rise of star quarterback Matthew Stafford and a defense that would bend but didn’t break. Quinn did a lot of this without many of his guys. Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter are two strong coordinators, but Jim Caldwell is only a middle of the pack head coach.
The more Quinn has his footprint on this football team, the better it will become. Keep in mind that the former New England Patriots front office executive will have $38,446,088 to work with in terms of the salary cap. In short, Quinn can offer Bell the type of money he’ll want to land him in free agency.
Leaving historically relevant Pittsburgh for historically inept Detroit would be a bold move for Bell. However, the Lions look good heading into 2017. They haven’t peaked yet, something that may have already happened with the Mike Tomlin Steelers.
Bell can continue to dominate in a cold-weather division, but will get the luxury of playing nine games annually inside. Ben Roethlisberger is in the twilight of his NFL career, while Stafford is just now hitting his stride. Bell to Detroit feels like decent possibility.
Jan 8, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) celebrates with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) after a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second half in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Frankly, it may not even be up to Bell for what he does in 2017 NFL free agency. Since he is entering his fifth season as a professional, there is an excellent chance that Pittsburgh will slap him with the franchise tag.
While his production on the field speaks for itself, Bell hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt to get a long-term deal from the Steelers just yet. He’s been suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy in the last two years. Bell hasn’t shown that he can play a full 16-game NFL season.
The franchise tag for an NFL running back would be around $12,000,000 in 2017. It can be a little pricey for a running back, but Bell should at least be worth that to the Steelers. Pittsburgh can afford Bell on a one-year deal worth $12 million.
The Steelers are middle of the pack in terms of the salary cap with a projected $35,458,048 worth of space. Is Bell worth a third of the Steelers’ cap space? That’s a tough conundrum to navigate. Pittsburgh is a good team and a great organization, but the Steelers have to consider all courses of action regarding their starting running back.
It would certainly be strange to see Bell playing for somebody else. For the sake of not letting him walk out of town for nothing a year early, Bell for $12 million feels like a deal that Pittsburgh is going to make. If they lose Bell, that might be the end for the Super Bowl aspirations of the Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh.