The Jets just signed running back Le’Veon Bell to a 4-year, $ 52 million deal in the 2019 offseason. Bell lasted a little more than a year on their roster under coach Adam Gase.
Gase had strongly suggested he despised the signing by former general manager Mike Maccagnan by not fully committing to Bell as the team’s feature back. That was proved by the addition of aging Frank Gore, a Gase favorite with the Dolphins, for 2020.
Now Bell, still only 28, is looking for his third NFL team just three years removed from his second All-Pro season for the Steelers. While New York moves on with Gore, rookie La’Mical Perine and others, where might Bell land as a midseason NFL free agent?
Here’s looking at the six possible fits for Bell, from most to least likely:
The Bears don’t really have any experience behind talented second-year back David Montgomery after losing receiving change of pace Tarik Cohen to a torn ACL. Although Montgomery is a capable receiver, Bell’s work in the passing game should have appeal as a stronger complementary relief than Ryan Nall and a few gadget carries for Cordarrelle Patterson.
At 4-1, Chicago needs some more playmaking help around Nick Foles to maintain its position in the NFC playoff race. Bell would be a nice upgrade in insurance for Montgomery, also as an extra asset for third downs.
The Seahawks continue to roll with Chris Carson as their workhorse, but Rashaad Penny remains on the shelf coming off a torn ACL. And Carlos Hyde, the veteran insurance policy they signed late in free agency, is dealing with a shoulder injury. Seattle does like young Travis Homer, but Bell would be an ideal supplement to Carson in their power run-based offense as another valuable outlet for Russell Wilson.
The biggest former Steeler name attached to the Seahawks has been wide receiver Antonio Brown. But unlike Brown, there’s a real need for Bell, given Carson hasn’t proven to be the most durable back himself.
New England Patriots
The Patriots seem set in the backfield, even with Sony Michel on IR with a quad injury. Second-year back Damien Harris is back healthy and looked strong as Michel’s early-down replacement against the Chiefs. James White is excellent in his dedicated receiving role, and Rex Burkhead remains solid as the swing backup.
But because this is Bill Belichick — who likes taking chances on big-name veterans whom he feels still have strong value in the Patriots’ schemes — Bell can’t be ruled out as an addition to the mix, given how run-heavy the team is now to support Cam Newton. The added bonus would be picking up an ex-Jet to rattle Gase.
Kansas City Chiefs
Don’t sleep on the Super Bowl champions making a call on Bell, even though they used a first-round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They like his strong, compact power running, and he’s gifted as a receiver — but he’s not fully trusted on passing downs or in the red zone. With Damien Williams opting out, the Chiefs could use a little more experience and pop off the bench vs. Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson. Bell is the kind of versatile back who excels under Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy.
This would be the ultimate revenge for Bell: from going nowhere with Gase, to getting another shot at winning it all outside of Pittsburgh — and a potential shot to burn the Steelers, too.
The Eagles have kicked the tires on Bell before. They seem unlikely to be interested; special second-year back Miles Sanders dominates touches and Corey Clement and Boston Scott have some good swing and receiving qualities behind him. But just like Matt Nagy and Reid, Doug Pederson has a good system to get the best out of Bell’s three-down skills to more effectively spell Sanders.
The Steelers replaced Bell well with James Conner and, after another injury issue early, Conner is back rolling as Mike Tomlin’s workhorse. They also have a crowd of young situational backs behind him in Benny Snell Jr. (power), rookie Anthony McFarland (speed) and Jaylen Samuels (pass-catching).
But keep in mind Tomlin and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner aren’t fans of committees and piecemealing production over three backs (should Conner have more injury issues). Durability always is a concern with Conner, and with Bell they know exactly what they would get if something happened to him — just like DeAngelo Williams, who once subbed in so well for Bell.
As crazy as it sounds for Bell to go back to Pittsburgh, it does make a modicum of sense to shore up a backup situation for a team with its own Super Bowl aspirations.