Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will reportedly return to the team during their Week 7 bye, enabling him to accrue a year of service time in hopes of actually hitting the free agent market next March.
By now it’s well known that Bell has held out through training camp, the preseason and the first four games of the regular season. He wants a long-term contract that resets the running back market. The Steelers aren’t willing to pay that.
And now, the team is reportedly listening to offers for the running back leading up to the trade deadline later this month.
According to this report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Bell believes that the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers are among the teams that will be interested in signing him in free agency. The Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns are other teams Bell mentions.
It makes perfect sense that Philadelphia would be interested in him. The team could use that elite-level back to team up with franchise quarterback Carson Wentz in the backfield.
Jay Ajayi is averaging a robust 4.2 yards per rush this season. However, it’s not a secret that Bell would be a dramatic upgrade.
For the 49ers, interest in Bell’s services seems to indicate that the team might move on from Jerick McKinnon before he even plays a down with them. McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million deal with San Francisco in March before suffering a torn ACL in August. The 49ers can get out from under his contract with just a $1.5 million dead cap hit for next season.
What’s intriguing here is Bell’s contract situation. San Francisco has been among the teams to put calls in to the Steelers for Bell. But he’s ineligible to sign an extension before the end of the season.
Any team acquiring him in a trade before the Oct. 30 deadline risks losing him in free agency or continuing the contract stalemate we’ve seen in Pittsburgh by placing the transition tag on the All-Pro ball carrier.
Though, a backdoor deal is possible in the event that Bell is traded. This is to say a handshake with the acquiring team to sign Bell to a contract of his terms once the season concludes. In this case, trading for Bell would eliminate a potential free agency war for his services.