Earlier in the week, it was reported by PFN insider Tony Pauline that the New York Jets and Le’Veon Bell seem destined for a mutual parting of ways. There should be a number of trade suitors for the veteran running back, but how did things get to this point in the first place?
Dysfunction has been the name of the game for the Jets since the arrival of head coach Adam Gase. It started off early in the season, with numerous reports of strife in the front office with then-GM Mike Maccagnan. The struggles continued throughout the season with rumors flying around various Jets top talent. There were rumors the team was looking to jettison top safety Jamal Adams and wide receiver Robby Anderson. But Bell has been the player the trade winds have revolved around most often.
Bell is no stranger to controversy himself. Just a couple of years ago, the NFL world was abuzz with Bell’s decision to force the Pittsburgh Steelers’ hand by sitting out an entire season to either force his way out or get a large long-term deal. From there, the rumors flew about which team would ultimately land Bell, with the talented running back eventually landing with the Jets.
Even during the season, Bell’s tenure with the Jets was shaky at best. The trade rumors around Bell started early, and there were reportedly several offers for the star running back at the trade deadline. The Jets chose to keep Bell, but both sides now seem headed for a split. If Bell is on his way out of New York, where would the Jets send him? Who would the top suitors be? And what could the team receive in return?
No matter who ends up winning the Bell sweepstakes, it’s likely that the Jets come away the losers. Bell has a massive contract that is going to make his move difficult. It’s likely that he’s only a possibility for teams who aren’t paying a top pass rusher and haven’t sunk big money into a franchise quarterback. With his prohibitive contract, coupled with the mileage already on his tires, compensation for the running back would likely be little more than a day 2 pick — or two — in the NFL Draft.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the teams that would make the best trade suitors for the Pro Bowl running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first — and most unlikely — trade suitor for Bell comes to us from the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team that has been looking for an answer to the running back situation for years. Mock drafts have had countless solutions for the team’s running woes, but nothing has been the cure for what ails them. Tampa has consistently been a bottom-tier running team, but Bell would come in and instantly improve their dreadful performance.
The biggest problem with the idea of a trade to the Bucs is the Jameis Winston situation. If the Bucs make the decision to bring Winston back, it would make trading for Bell difficult, if not impossible. While Winston isn’t likely to command the type of money that a top-tier quarterback would, he’s still going to be put on a contract that makes building a team around him much more difficult. It’s just the nature of contracts in today’s NFL. If you’re paying a QB top-tier money, you have to get creative with the rest of the roster.
If the Bucs make the decision to part ways with Winston, that frees them up to make a move for Bell. But therein lies the question: Would Bell want to go to a team who doesn’t have their quarterback situation in hand? It’s hard to imagine him wanting to be in that state of affairs.
Kansas City Chiefs
At first, the Kansas City Chiefs may not strike anyone as a legitimate player in the Bell sweepstakes, but they could make a sneaky good trade suitor for the running back. Kansas City has made themselves into a perennial Super Bowl contender, thanks to the likes of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and an absolutely electric group of wide receivers.
With the free-agent acquisition of pass-rusher Frank Clark, they’ve solidified the defensive side of the ball as well. It has worked to the tune of an AFC Championship appearance this season, with a chance to make their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. But if the Chiefs suffer an upset at the hands of the run-first Tennessee Titans, it could inform their strategy going forward.
Kansas City only has one more season with the NFL’s ultimate cheat code: a good quarterback on their rookie contract. The team tried to solidify its running game and help take some pressure off the historically-good passing game, but it has largely not worked the way they had hoped. Pairing Bell with a good offensive line and the weapons the Chiefs already have at their disposal could spell disaster for the rest of the league.
Of all the teams who could position themselves as suitors for a Bell trade, the one I like the most from a team perspective is the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has gone all-in on their young quarterback Josh Allen, and they are now looking to get the tools he needs around him to succeed.
Wide receiver would be a more pressing issue for the Bills than running back, but this year’s NFL Draft class is absolutely stacked with talent. So is the running back class, but no one in the class rises to the level of Bell. Allen has two years remaining on his rookie contract, so now is the time for the Bills to make a big push. The New England Patriots dynasty has to fall eventually, and a trade for Bell could vault the Bills into position to be their successor in the AFC East.
Bell would pair nicely with rookie running back Devin Singletary and give the Bills a formidable one-two punch in the backfield that Bell has never really been a part of. As Bell gets closer and closer to the dreaded age of 30, taking some of the pressure off of him is vital to extending his career and getting the most value out of the move. No potential suitor is better positioned to do that than the Buffalo Bills.