While some of the focus has shifted to the sudden deterioration of Antonio Brown’s relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which will most likely end up in a trade — his former teammate and running back Le’Veon Bell continues to be top billing on the NFL’s free-agent list.
After sitting out the 2018 season due to contract disputes, Bell will become an unrestricted free agent this winter and will be able to sign with a new team on Mar. 14. Missing the entire year was the only way Bell could freely move elsewhere, as the Steelers extended the franchise tag for a second-straight season on the 26-year-old. He had until Nov. 13 to accept the deal and report to team facilities but opted not to, which made him ineligible for the rest of 2018.
The breakup stemmed from broken down contract negotiations. While the Steelers offered Bell a contract worth $70 million over five years ($14 million/year), but the back is looking for a deal that pays him an average of $17 million per season.
It will be a steep price to pay for any interested party, but it could very well be worth it. Bell is one of the most explosive two-way backs in football and one of the most reliable when he’s healthy. He’s recorded at least 1,268 rushing yards and 75 receptions in each of the last three seasons in which he’s played at least 12 games.
He led the NFL in touches during the 2017 season with 321 rushing attempts to go with 85 receptions. In the last 11 years, only two running backs had as many touches as Bell’s 406.
Who could make a play for Le’Veon Bell?
The New York Jets have long been linked with Bell as soon as there was evidence of unrest between the All-Pro and the Steelers.
While Bell initially played off the idea of joining the Jets back in February, Gang Green has become the frontrunner for his services, per multiple reports. He has even come around on the notion that he could be the No. 1 back to support second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
He would provide the Jets with an offensive talent not seen since Curtis Martin, which will only give Darnold more options as he continues to develop as the franchise QB.
New York won’t have any issues meeting his salary expectations, either, as they are projected to have over $100 million of cap space to play with this offseason.
The Jets could see some competition in the form of the Philadelphia Eagles, who will be in the running back market this winter. General manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson basically came out on Tuesday and said their backfield needs to improve (h/t Zack Rosenblatt, NJ.com). Rosenblatt also listed Bell as a possible upgrade, however, the Eagles will need to do some serious roster shuffling if they want to make that dream a reality.
As it stands, the Eagles are $12 million over the cap in 2019, the worst among all NFL teams.