Once the best running back in the NFL, Le’Veon Bell has yet to sign with a team as the 2021 NFL Draft draws nearer by the day. Will Bell sign before the draft despite relatively minimal rumors about his NFL future?
Le’Veon Bell has yet to find the success he once saw in Pittsburgh
A member of the “Three B’s,” Bell’s sting was one of the most potent in the NFL. He recorded 5,336 rushing yards, 35 rushing touchdowns, 2,660 receiving yards, and 7 receiving touchdowns with the Pittsburgh Steelers in five seasons.
Bell was an all-purpose weapon lined up in the backfield alongside Ben Roethlisberger. From 2013 to 2017, Bell was second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (7,996), only 20 yards behind LeSean McCoy’s 8,016. During this time, however, Bell played in 13 fewer games than McCoy. In fact, Bell blew McCoy out of the water when it came to yards per game with 128.9 to 106.8.
Unfortunately, like many relationships, it soured as money became a dividing factor. Bell wanted (and had earned) a massive contract, but the Steelers elected to franchise tag him instead. Consequently, Bell opted to hold out the entire 2018 season, refusing to play until a deal was reached. Rather than come together after the season ended, the Steelers let him walk in free agency.
Bell then signed with the New York Jets in 2019. But like everything else Adam Gase touches, it turned a familiar shade of brown rather than gold. Over the span of 17 games, Bell rushed for 863 yards and 3 touchdowns while averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. He also caught 69 passes for 500 yards and 1 touchdown.
Bell signed with the Chiefs in 2020 but saw limited work
When Bell signed with the Kansas City Chiefs midway through last season, the NFL went into a firestorm. Not only were the Chiefs Super Bowl favorites at the time, but they signed one of the best backs of this generation.
After Damien Williams opted out of the season, the Chiefs needed someone to split the workload with rookie first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Another reason for Bell’s signing was to improve their rushing game in the red zone, something Edwards-Helaire struggled to find success in. From inside the 10-yard line, Edwards-Helaire had rushed the ball 10 times for -1 yards. From inside the 5-yard line, he had 7 carries for an astonishing -3 yards on the season.
In his nine regular-season games with the Chiefs, Bell handled 63 carries for 254 yards, scoring 2 touchdowns. He also caught all 3 targets for 39 yards.
Now 29 years old, the question NFL teams need to ask themselves before attempting to sign Bell is — what can they reasonably expect out of him? Can he be a potential RB1, or is he better served in a complementary role as he was last year? Given the lack of rumors, the latter seems to be the current thought.
Rumors point to a few contenders that Bell could sign with before the NFL Draft
Scheme-wise I love this signing for both the Cardinals and Bell. Outside of an injury-shortened 2015, Bell caught over 66 passes each season from 2013 to 2019. Arizona targeted their RBs on 18.4% of plays in 2020, and they prefer to use RBs who can catch the ball rather than one-dimensional plodders.
With Kenyan Drake now in Las Vegas, there is no one else on the depth chart the Cardinals would likely trust behind Chase Edmonds. Lined up alongside one of the most dynamic running quarterbacks in Kyler Murray, a rotation of Bell and Edmonds behind him would be a frightful sight for a defense already worried about DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green.
You know that ex you end up getting back with even though you know it might be a bad idea? This might be one of those situations. Don’t get me wrong — the bridges are still smoldering over the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio from Bell’s exit.
No one said this would be a kiss-and-make-up situation. The difference here is both sides have a mutual need. The Steelers desperately need running back help with James Conner floating around in free agency and Bell needs to land on a contender.
The Steelers know what they are getting in Bell regarding his skill set in their offense, even with a new offensive coordinator at the helm. Equally, Bell knows this is a place where he could find success. He could use it as a springboard for a larger contract in 2022 when the salary cap is more conducive to larger deals. Hindsight is 20/20, given how Bell handled his situation versus Antonio Brown, maybe it might not be too late for a reunion.
When Bell signed with the Chiefs, rumors suggested the Miami Dolphins were the other team in consideration. Bell already answers the how, and due to no state income tax, his paycheck would go further and the why is answered, too.
The Dolphins tried out several running backs last season before finding success with Myles Gaskin. Appearing in 10 games (seven starts), Gaskin averaged 97.2 total yards per game while scoring 5 times.
Miami did sign former Los Angeles Rams RB Malcolm Brown this offseason. Nevertheless, Bell would be a great addition to the backfield. The question would be whether or not Brian Flores would be willing to sign and bring in a personality like Bell into a young locker room.
Outside of Josh Allen tucking the ball, the Bills rushing game was inconsistent in 2020. They finished in the bottom half of the league in both total rushing yards and yards per attempt. The jury is out on what both Devin Singletary and Zack Moss will become in the NFL. As a duo, they combined for 268 rushes, 1,168 rushing yards, and 6 touchdowns, adding 52 receptions for 364 yards and another score in the receiving game.
Singletary has shown the ability to break off explosive plays, but he does his best work as a pass-catching back. Moss played well enough at times, but neither RB moves the needle for the Bills in truth. Moss is also recovering from a tight-rope surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in his ankle. He expects to be ready for training camp, however.
The Bills are a team ready to take on the Chiefs for the AFC crown in 2021. They were also one of the teams rumored as a landing spot for Bell when he was released from the Jets. Signing Bell into the fold would put them one step closer to the ultimate goal.
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