One of the biggest developing stories in the NFL has been Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell not reporting to the team. His frustration with his contract situation made him ultimately decide upon skipping the entire season, with the motive to avoid any injuries that may potentially hurt his monetary value in the upcoming free agency.
So, now with the Steelers players frustrated with his absence and decision (rummaging through his stuff), as well as the emergence of James Conner now makes it very clear that Pittsburgh is moving on from Bell.
Bell enters this upcoming free agency for the third straight season after receiving the franchise tag two straight seasons, but at 26 years-old the third time now appears to be the charm, finally allowing him the opportunity to hit the open market for the first time in his career.
Now the new question that lingers is; Where will Le’Veon Bell play in 2019?
When starting to consider some possible landing spots for Bell, I first took into account several critical factors that should really impact where Bell will sign.
- Cap Space?
The fact that Bell has held out highlight the obvious fact that one of his greatest motives is looking to earn the highest value contract possible for what he believes he is worth. So to start, in order for a team to hand out that sort of money, there needs to be an abundance of available cap space especially for a multi-year contract.
Currently, there are five teams in the NFL that have a surplus of $80M+ in cap space. The five teams (in order) with the most cap space are the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders.
- Need for a RB?
Next factor would obviously be if the team actually needs a new running back, or could benefit from using Bell to complement their current running back. While any team in the league can obviously benefit from a skill player as talented as Bell, I listed five teams that would need a starting back the most. The team that can use a starting running back the most is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers.
- Championship Contender?
There really is no need to explain this factor. Bell has been accustomed to a winning culture in Pittsburgh, so playing for a team that right now already can contend for a Championship will only help that team’s chances to sign him. A few teams of example that can use Bell that fits that criteria are; New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans are already set up to contend for a championship right now.
There’s been a whole lot of hostility surrounding this entire situation, and the majority of that has been delivered from the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, especially the players on the team. Bell has felt disrespected and disappointed with how the organization has handled the entire situation. Now with James Conner dominating in replace of Bell, critics of Bell are starting to feel the Steelers have not and will not miss a beat without him. There is no reason why Bell wouldn’t want to get revenge back on the Steelers organization, so which makes it extremely enticing to possibly considering joining a rival AFC team. Bell can join a team in the AFC hoping he can defeat them in the playoffs, or perhaps even join a division-rival to play them at least twice a year.
- Fresh Start/Best New Opportunity?
The last and most important factor which impacts Bell’s decision, is to sign with an organization that will allow him a complete fresh start, and the greatest opportunity to reach his highest potential. While this can be tricky to evaluate, because his best chance of that opportunity may ultimately be a team that is currently in a rebuilding mode with the right assets in line to improve fast.
Although, the the previous for factors should all impact his decision of some sort, I think at the end of the day those will factor more into the negotiation process, allowing Bell to eliminate and cross teams off the list that don’t meet that criteria. Bell is going to consider those factors, but ultimately he will end up agreeing to a multi-year deal with the organization that gives his the best opportunity to succeed in every way possible.
Now after analyzing the several factors for Bell’s decision, I then formed a list of any possible teams he may consider, and power ranked them in order of the best chance where I think he will end up.
I listed twelve teams that would make sense for Bell to sign with, although I believe a few of them have a lot more realistic shot than the others.
Tampa Buccaneers need a starting running back the most of any team, but most likely do not possess the talent to have any shot to convince him.
Cleveland Browns falls under the revenge and salary cap factor, but would seem highly unlikely due to the emergence of Nick Chubb along with Duke Johnson.
Seattle Seahawks would definitely make sense for a need, and also would complement Wilson nicely, but unfortunately for them the organization success has increasingly started to decline recently.
The Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Jets are four AFC teams that would make sense in terms of the position need, salary cap, and revenge factors. The issue here is none of those destinations are typically viewed as an “attractive landing spot”, along with other various questions surrounding the organizations, but they each can still be considered to have a realistic shot.
Top Five Most Likely Landing Spots:
There are five teams I believe have the best opportunity to land Bell; Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers signed Jerick McKinnon last free agency, who is recovering from a Torn-ACL in August last free agency, but his contract along wide a strong play from Matt Breida which could affect their pursuit of him. Although, there is no question whether or not they have the available cap space, coaching scheme, potential talent, and an attractive location to at least be considered in the sweepstakes.
The defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles would be crazy to not go “all-in” for Bell. Trading for Jay Ajayi, (who recently tore his ACL) last trade deadline highlights their desire to have a reliable “bell-cow” as their starter. Their only issue for is whether or not they can offer the money to compete with other teams offers, but this would allow him to stay in Pennsylvania and play for another championship contender.
The Green Bay Packers are in pretty much the exact same boat as the Eagles, but in their favor they have a ton more salary cap flexibility with Clay Matthews, and Randall Cobb’s large salaries expiring. The Packers should only be focusing on building the best roster possible to support Rodgers in the prime of his career. Pairing Bell alongside Rodgers would be a real scary sight for the NFC. Ultimately it will come down to the Packers urgency to go after him, and if Bell would be attracted to the idea of playing in Wisconsin.
The Houston Texans are in an excellent position to seriously be considered in the running for the Bell sweepstakes. The combination of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins is a dynamic duo to say the least for the future, but adding a back along-side Watson would make them arguably the best team in the AFC. Houston as of right now has $68M in available cap space (6th most available) thanks to having a QB on a rookie contract so they definitely have the right amount of funds to throw out a huge offer.
Power Rankings of Each Team’s Chance:
- Oakland Raiders
- Houston Texans
- Green Bay Packers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- San Francisco 49ers
- Tennessee Titans
- Indianapolis Colts
- Baltimore Ravens
- New York Jets
- Seattle Seahawks
- Cleveland Browns
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
While all of those teams have a realistic shot, to me there is no other team that stands a chance in the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes more than the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. It makes absolute perfect sense in every possible way that the Raiders should, and I believe will sign land Bell in this upcoming free agency.
First, the Raiders are in complete rebuild-mode, but the positive in that they’ve acquired five first round picks in the next two drafts which should definitely help speed up the process. Head coach John Gruden wants to build a roster of his own, and with the trading of Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack now they have the available assets to do so.
Bell needs a complete restart in a new city, with a new organization, with a new fan base that is collectively willing to accept him. There is no better place and time to start over and rebuild your image and reputation. There is not any other situation that would allow Bell to earn the trust from the organization’s fan base, more than a major city that has never had a football team or even any professional sport franchise of their own (besides the NHL Golden Knights in their second season).
The Raiders hired Gruden to a ten-year contract last season in order to bring the excitement back to the Raiders fan base. They also hired him to incorporate his fierce energy and passion towards the new fan base that will form in Las Vegas, and signing Bell would offer a fresh new excitement. Las Vegas fans are going to want to win right away; and there is not another skill position player, or even any other player that would positively impact the Raiders right away on the field more than Le’Veon Bell.
Therefore, in the negation process they would be able offer him the perfect opportunity to be the face of the organization and the city of Las Vegas which falls under the (fresh start/new opportunity factor). They have the right head coach to attract Bell, with the appropriate coaching scheme that suits well towards his playing style. They play in the AFC (revenge factor). They have the draft capital and salary cap availability to improve their roster immediately (championship contender/ factor). Last, but not least, they have $80 million right now available in cap space to throw a handsome stack of money to Bell, which they will ultimately make Le’Veon Bell the new face of the Raiders and Las Vegas professional sports.