What the odds makers think.
Tuesday brought an official end of the 2018 season for Le’Veon Bell. For all intents and purposes, it also ended his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as we look towards 2019, we see a number of possible destinations for him.
The odds makers seem to think that Bell will end up with the New York Jets (which you can read about here). It’s well within the realm of possibility. But for us, there are better fits. One of those fits would be with a heated rival of Pittsburgh’s. Another would be in the same state. Our top fit would be with a supremely talented quarterback who’s never played with a running back close to his caliber. But there are other fun teams to think about, as well.
These are the top potential destinations for Bell in 2019.
Of all of the teams we’ll go over here, the Eagles are the closest to championship caliber right now. Philadelphia has also struggled to run the ball effectively this year. That’s all enough to make us entertain this possibility. The problem is that Philadelphia’s cap situation is abysmal. By the current projections, the Eagles will enter the offseason needing to clear nearly $11.5 million just to break even. They’d have to clear a great deal more to sign Bell. The motivation might be there, especially if the 2018 season ends in either a missed playoff appearance or a short postseason trip. But a lot would have to happen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa ranks as one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Whether the quarterback is Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or a rookie, the situation will be shaky in 2019. Adding one of the NFL’s best backs just seems logical. It’s certainly in play. But as things presently stand, only four teams will have less money to spend in the offseason. Additionally, this team needs to do some all-around rebuilding. Bell would help that cause. But the defense is also terrible and the quarterback situation is one of the worst in the league. It’s not that we can’t see Tampa going for a splash with Bell. But other teams make more sense.
Green Bay Packers
The thought of Bell sharing a backfield with Aaron Rodgers is darn intriguing. Those two would create some fantastic plays and would be a nightmare on opposing defenses. With that understood, Green Bay already ranks No. 1 in the league in yards per carry. Aaron Jones is affordable and has played well. On top of that is the cap issue.
The Packers project to have a decent amount of cap space in 2019 when compared to the Bucs or Eagles. But other, more running back needy teams, can significantly outbid them. It’s fun to think about and we could see this happening, but there are better fits.
While Detroit’s running game is better than we’ve seen in a while, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Lions are 23rd in rushing yards per game and 16th in yards per attempt. Additionally, Bell has Midwest ties. He’s from Ohio and went to school at Michigan State. Money lingers as the biggest issue. The Lions are below average in projected salary cap space for the 2019 season. But if Detroit really wants to contend for championships, putting a playmaker around Matthew Stafford is a necessary step. Bell would check that box in a big way.
Financially, there would be some issues here. Signing Bell would eat up a good chunk of Baltimore’s projected cap room in 2019. That’s a problem for a team that has some holes to fill. That said, the running game is one of those holes. The Ravens rank 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 31st in yards per carry. Adding someone like Bell — potentially pairing him with Lamar Jackson — would flip that in a heartbeat. Moreover, the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Baltimore is already one of the most intense in the league. Imagine what those games would be like in 2019 if Bell switched sides.
With Deshaun Watson at quarterback and DeAndre Hopkins out wide, Houston’s offense is already scary enough. Add Bell to that and things will get really tough on opposing defenses. On top of that, the Texans have ample cap space. There’s one slight flaw here. While Houston can definitely improve its running game, rebuilding the offensive line seems to be the better way to do that. That would make life easier on Lamar Miller and other current running backs. It would also help keep Watson from getting hit so much. Still, it’s still not hard to imagine this happening.
San Francisco 49ers
A potential drawback to this is that the 49ers have had a solid running game in 2018. But as good as Matt Breida has been, he’s also been injury prone. He’s talented, but doesn’t seem durable enough to be a featured back. Bell is. On top of that, Bell’s pass-catching ability would be a huge asset in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. He and Brieda could drive opposing offenses crazy.
San Francisco also has a lot of money to spend and can get out of the Jerick McKinnon contract without much fuss. The 49ers certainly have other holes to fill. But if they want to make this happen and Bell is on board, it’s really easy to see this happening.
New York Jets
We get why odds makers favored New York. This was reportedly entertained in September. The Jets need a playmaker, have a lot of money, and will be in a desperate situation. Head coach Todd Bowles is almost certain to be gone at the end of the year. And while general manager Mike Maccagnan is likely safe, the 2019 season will be his fifth as New York’s GM with the first four yielding no playoff appearances. By comparison, John Idzik — the man he replaced — got only two non-playoff seasons. Maccagnan will need to make a big move. Signing Bell wouldn’t guarantee a postseason trip, but it’d help.
The Raiders have a hole in the running game. Also, after what’s been a disastrous season, Oakland will need to make a big splash in the offseason. Fortunately, the Raiders also have a lot of money to spend. Jon Gruden has also traditionally favored backs that can catch as well as they can run. Bell is one of the best two-way running backs in the league. It all adds up. The only issue is this. Oakland has had a lot of discontent in 2018 from its veteran players. Would Bell really want to go there and risk 2019 being as bad as 2018 has been? It’s a concern. But other than that, everything else points to this being a near perfect fit.
The first positive is that no team currently has more to spend than Indianapolis. Next is that the Colts have spent a lot of money trying to rebuild the offensive line. And while the running game hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t been great, either. Andrew Luck has really never shared the backfield with a great back, at least not one in his prime. We could see Indianapolis signing Bell in the offseason and immediately becoming a contender in the AFC. That, combined with the money, would really be the best of both worlds for Bell. It’s fun to think about Bell on other teams. But none make more sense than the Colts.