Where next for Le'Veon Bell?
By Owen Davis
Last Updated: 12/03/19 2:24pm
NFL free agency is upon us and there is one name that stands out - Le'Veon Bell - amid the rush of signings this week, the Pro Bowl running back has yet to find a new home.
Bell used Monday's start of the NFL's 'legal tampering period' to take to social media and announce he is "torn" over where to take his prodigious talents after sitting out last season following a refusal to sign his franchise tag contract.
The 27-year-old did not accept the five-year, $70m that the Steelers offered him at the start of the 2018 season, arguing that he was worth more and pointing to the financial insecurities of playing in the league.
When the team then placed a franchise tag upon him, he simply refused to play and now it appears he has his pick.
It is a testament to his ability that despite the drama, so many teams remain interested in him. While Bell did not pioneer the idea of the utility back - equally gifted at running downfield and catching the pass - he has helped to popularise it, and teams across the league want his skillset.
However, there are only a handful that can afford him. With the power of the almighty dollar taking centre stage, here are Le'Veon Bell's most likely destinations next season.
Could Bell and Antonio Brown be reunited in the Black and Silver? It's quite possible. Jon Gruden isn't afraid of drastic overhauls and his trade for Brown indicates that he isn't too concerned over locker room drama either.
More importantly, he needs to win. It's just 18 months until the Raiders play their first game in Las Vegas, and Gruden knows that another 4-12 season is not enough for the franchise to build anticipation. Oakland has stockpiled plenty of draft picks but also need proven talent - particularly in the backfield, where Jalen Richard is currently top of the depth chart.
To entice Bell, the Raiders have buckets of cap space, which could give Bell a similar contract to Todd Gurley's four-year, $57.5m deal.
Following a move for Trent Brown, it may now just be out of the Raiders wiggle room but who knows if Brown is having a word in his former teammate's ear?
When the negotiating window opens today, expect a bunch of teams to be in the mix for free agent RB Le’Veon Bell — a list that includes the #Jets, #49ers and, yes, the #Raiders. A Pittsburgh reunion in the Bay? @gmfb @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/77vGORxD1x— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 11, 2019
The Colts are rumoured as one of Bell's preferred options. It's not hard to see why: they have the most cap room in the league and boast plenty of talent. As a bonus, unlike some of the other teams in the market, they are ready to win now.
While Bell may want the Colts, it's not clear whether the Colts want him. General manager Chris Ballard recently stressed the importance of off-field behaviour, saying of prospective free agents and so far they have not got too involved in the frenzy, only moving for former Carolina Panthers WR Devin Funchess.
'We have a very strict criteria that he's going to have to fit. He's going to have to earn the high salary that he's making - not only with his play, but with his presence within the locker room.'
On the field, the Colts also have a gifted back in 23-year-old Marlon Mack. While not as talented as Bell, Mack still posted nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns last year. With one of the league's best offensive lines around him, those numbers are likely to improve.
New York Jets
What does Le'Veon Bell think of the New York Jets? After a New York fan jokingly tweeted a $60m to Bell on Twitter, he replied saying that the figure "wasn't enough to run with the Jets".
That bold statement hasn't quashed the rumours though, partly because the Jets have oceans of cap room to play with but mostly because they need firepower. The Jets have a strong offensive line but lack an elite player to run through it.
Sam Darnold is a promising young quarterback but has few weapons to throw to. Having agreed a deal for Jamison Crowder and spent big to bring in Anthony Barr and C.J. Mosley, Bell could be the final Free Agency piece.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco aren't the favourites, but they aren't out of the race either. The Niners want talent and have been quick to move in free agency, signing Tampa Bay linebacker Kwon Alexander to a record four-year $54m deal. They aren't afraid to spend either as they showed last year, with limited success under GM John Lynch.
Kyle Shanahan is a big proponent of versatile running backs. But would they want to spend money there so soon? Just last year the Niners gave Jerick McKinnon $30 million for four years, only to see him quickly tear his ACL in the pre-season. Jeff Wilson and Matt Breida impressed in his absence, which could persuade Shanahan that his funds are best spent elsewhere as they try and build a championship roster.
The Steelers' bitter rivals are the least likely contenders on this list, though it would be fascinating to see Bell face his former side twice a year. He would be a great fit in Baltimore too: despite their recent play-off appearance, their offense was frankly tepid last season. They need playmakers and Bell's versatility would be a perfect fit for a young QB such as Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore has a problem though - several defensive stars including C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs are themselves entering free agency. It looks likely that the Ravens' roster will undergo a major overhaul, which probably makes a big-money signing like Bell impossible in the near future - but in the NFL you never know.