Le’Veon Bell may have been a bust for the Jets, but he’s going to be a bargain for somebody else. He’s already being paid $13 million this season, all guaranteed. So it won’t cost his next team much to sign him.
And somebody will, because despite his decline, Bell still has skills and value, and he’ll be motivated to prove to the league that he deserves one more contract even though he’ll be 29 before next season starts.
Here’s a look at some of the teams that should be in the Bell chase when he officially becomes a free agent at 4 p.m. on Wednesday:
Of course the Patriots are a possibility. Of course they are. And it does make some sense, even though they are the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack so far. Quarterback Cam Newton (149 yards) has a lot to do with that and their leading rusher (Sony Michel) has only 173 yards and is currently on injured reserve. They do still have Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris and James White, but the 28-year-old Bell is more talented than them. And Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels love using a variety of running backs, especially ones that can catch passes out of the backfield. Making use of a Jets castoff would seem like a bonus.
They are a real Super Bowl contender with a hole in their backfield. Devin Singletary rushed for 25 yards on 11 carries on Tuesday night in Tennessee and he’s not much of a threat as a receiver. Rookie Zack Moss (toe) is hurt. And the Bills proved they’re willing to be aggressive to acquire weapons for young quarterback Josh Allen with their offseason trade for receiver Stefon Diggs. This wouldn’t be nearly as costly, and it could provide a big boost in their quest to win the AFC East.
The Bears are a surprising 4-1 despite being one of the worst rushing teams in football. They also love to throw to their running backs, and they’ve lost backup Tarik Cohen for the season. They’re using Cordarrelle Patterson in that role now, but he’s really more of a receiver. Bell could be big for a team that needs more weapons for its struggling quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles).
Rookie Myles Gaskin has been decent (249 rushing yards, 147 receiving yards), but the Dolphins’ rushing attack in general has been ineffective. They are still in the playoff mix at 2-3 and the addition of a veteran playmaker like Bell could give them a boost. He could also help later in the season if they’re out of it, by giving rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa some help.
Their rushing attack is basically all about quarterback Kyler Murray, with lead back Kenyan Drake averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. They also could use a receiving weapon out of the backfield (Chase Edmonds has just 18 catches for 129 yards on the season). With the Seahawks (5-0) and Rams (4-1) ahead of them in the division, the Cards (3-2) could use all the weapons they could get.
The Steelers surprisingly inquired about their former star at the trading deadline last October. Their top running back James Conner is an injury risk and Benny Snell and rookie Anthony McFarland are unproven backups. It would make sense for them to take a flier on Bell and load up on weapons for what might be one final Super Bowl run for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Chris Carson has been effective for the Seahawks, and he has capable backups in Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer. But Carson and Hyde have been dealing with injury issues and none of them are big threats as receivers. The Seahawks are 5-0 and looking like Super Bowl favorites. Why not add one more weapon to their dangerous offense? And hey, Jamal Adams once recruited Bell to the Jets, right? Convincing him to sign with the Seahawks should be a heck of a lot easier.
Maybe a winless, rebuilding team doesn’t need a 28-year-old running back who seems to be on the decline. But they haven’t generated much of a rushing attack since Saquon Barkley went down, and doing that would be a huge help to struggling young quarterback Daniel Jones. Bell wouldn’t cost much, he wouldn’t be taking reps away from a younger player they’re trying to develop, and a rotation of him and Devonta Freeman could take a lot of pressure off the quarterback and maybe even the offensive line. It probably won’t happen, but it makes more sense than it first seemed.