As holdout Le’Veon Bell prepares to sit for a third consecutive game to start the regular season, he’s already out north of $2.4 million.
The All-Pro back was also officially taken off the Steelers’ active roster on Wednesday. While that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it is a clear indication that Pittsburgh is expecting this situation to continue for a while.
The backdrop here being Bell’s agent indicating that this will be his last season in Pittsburgh and the unlikelihood that the team will place the franchise tag on Bell once again next March. While the transition tag remains a possibility, it’s rather clear these two sides are coming to a divorce. James Conner’s performance in Bell’s stead magnifies this further.
If Bell is in fact traded before October’s deadline, there’s a limited about of teams that could realistically trade for him. Here’s a look at seven of them.
Green Bay Packers
Financially speaking, a lot would have to work out in Green Bay’s favor to pull off a trade of this ilk. The team is just $3.4 million under the cap and would have to move north of $11 million in salaries to pick up the remainder of Bell’s $14.54 million salary. Even then, it’s possible.
Would a struggling Steelers defense benefit from renting Clay Matthews? Maybe. While that wouldn’t move the needle in regards to what Pittsburgh receives in compensation, it would make the numbers work. Meanwhile, Green Bay can offer up one of the two first-round picks it has in next year’s draft. An Aaron Rodgers-Le’Veon Bell tandem in Green Bay would also be all sorts of sexy.
Indy heads into Week 3 ranked in the bottom nine in the NFL in rushing. It’s averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt with Jordan Wilkins boasting a team-high 101 yards through two games. While there’s certainly talent here, no one will mistake this rushing attack for that of the Atlanta Falcons or Dallas Cowboys. Bell’s presence in the backfield would be a boon for Andrew Luck, giving him an All-Pro level running back for the first time in the quarterback’s career.
Having north of $52 million in cap room, general manager Chris Ballard and Co. could easily make this work from a financial perspective. It just remains to be seen if the team would be willing to pay the piper when it comes to draft picks. It’s also a risk given any team that acquires Bell couldn’t extend him in-season.
Realistically, the Texans could trade for Bell without much of an issue from a financial perspective. It’s currently $22.9 million under the cap. With teams liking to have somewhere near $5 million to work with throughout the season, a trade could make sense here.
From an on-field perspective, the idea of teaming Bell up with Deshaun Watson would make for one scary backfield. Add in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller at receiver, and we’re talking about one of the most-talented offenses in the NFL. The issue here is that Houston ranks No. 1 in the NFL in rushing and has a back in Lamar Miller averaging nearly five yards per carry. Is Bell worth the draft pick compensation that would head back to Pittsburgh? We’re not too sure.
It’s frightening just how bad Detroit’s rushing attack has been in recent years. It has not had a running back go for 100-plus yards in a single game since Reggie Bush all the way back in 2013. Even in today’s pass-first NFL, that’s an insane stat right there. Having exhausted a second-round pick on Kerryon Johnson and following the signing of LeGarrette Blount, most figured Detroit would be out of the market for Bell. That’s not the case.
Detroit heads into Week 3 ranked 30th in rushing. Johnson has not lived up to the hype, and Blount seems to be reverting back to earlier-career form. With only $7.2 million to spend under the cap, Lions GM Bob Quinn would have to get creative. That includes moving soon-to-be free agent Golden Tate and his $9.3 million cap hit for the 2018 season in a separate trade. In fact, it would make a Bell trade possible from a financial perspective.
This one is interesting in that it could be the best of both worlds for each team. Having struggled against the pass through two games, the fledgling Steelers could use someone of Earl Thomas’ ilk in the defensive backfield. He would be a game-changer for a defense that’s just not lived up to the hype. The Thomas’ situation in Seattle is also by now well known. Like Bell, he was a holdout through training camp and is unlikely to be with the Seahawks beyond this season.
From Seattle’s perspective, this trade would make a ton of sense. Even after selecting Rashaad Penny in the first round of April’s draft, Pete Carroll continues to struggle finding the right mix. Seattle heads into Week 3 with the fourth-worst rushing attack in the game. Adding Bell would change the dynamic in a big way, helping Russell Wilson in the process. The salaries would also come close to matching, a necessity given Seattle is less than $6 million under the cap.
New York Jets
Sure Isaiah Crowell has performed well with rookie Sam Darnold in the backfield. But just imagine how much Bell would help the franchise quarterback moving forward. We’re talking about the best all-around running back the game has seen in generations. His receiving ability alone would change everything for Darnold.
At almost $20 million under the cap, New York could make a move for Bell without impacting its long-term financial health. That’s what happens when you have a starting quarterback playing under his rookie deal.
San Francisco 49ers
On the surface, this makes little sense. Despite suffering a torn ACL prior to the start of the regular season, Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million deal with San Francisco back in March. In his stead, Matt Breida actually leads the NFL in rushing. The 49ers also boast a capable backup in two-time Pro Bowler Alfred Morris.
Even then, the idea of teaming Bell up with franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has to be all sorts of appealing to GM John Lynch and Co. Given San Francisco is currently $32.9 million under the cap and with an ability to move on from McKinnon with just a $1.5 million dead cap hit after the season, the financials certainly work out here.
All cap information provided by Spotrac.