Le’Veon Bell will hit the free agent market when the new league year starts March 13. Only as long as the Pittsburgh Steelers do not use the exclusive franchise tag or the transition tag. Teams will be interested in Le’Veon Bell as history has shown with other players around the league. Steelers fans may be resentful towards Bell because of how he handled the 2018 season, but that does not mean General Managers around the league will feel the same way. GMs are always looking for Pro Bowl players who are leaving their former team. Teams will have internal discussions about Bell, but what teams are in the hunt to land the three-time Pro Bowler?
Where he will play will depend on his market value. Will teams shy away from Bell because of him sitting out a season? Fans can look at two players who took similar paths on their way to landing with a different team. Sean Gilbert sat out the 1997 season, and his inactivity did not stop the Carolina Panthers from making him the highest paid defensive player in league history after the Washington Redskins traded him to Carolina. Gilbert’s new deal was for seven years $45.6 million. Former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Joey Galloway skipped the first eight games during the 1999 season because of a contract dispute. After the season the disgruntled star was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. Galloway signed a seven-year extension worth $42 million which made him the second highest paid wideout in the league. With Gilbert and Galloway, NFL teams showed there was no concern over a player missing half, or all of, an NFL season. Teams cared about the talent they would bring.
Which NFL teams could line up for arguably the best dual-threat back in the league?
New York Jets: The Jets not only have a need for a bellcow back but the team has the cap space to lure Bell to the Big Apple. The New York Daily News speculates the team will not break the bank to sign him. As the Jets are $95.8 million under the cap, what exactly would “breaking the bank be”?
Indianapolis Colts: Media is connecting the dots here because of the Colts league-high $109 million under the cap. The Colts are not a team that makes splash free agent signings. Along with that aspect, the team has 22-year-old Marlon Mack under contract for two more seasons. Mack was productive last season rushing for 908 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 starts.
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo could move on from 30-year-old LeSean McCoy and his $6 million base salary which would increase the team’s available cap to $85 million. The Bills had the third most inept scoring offense in the NFL last season and is champing at the bit for an infusion in offensive talent to pair with the young quarterback, Josh Allen.
Oakland Raiders: Another team flush with cash with $71 million. The team has a huge need with Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, and Jalen Richard all potentially headed for free agency. (Richard is likely kept because of being a restricted free agent.) Head coach Jon Gruden is as unpredictable as coaches come. Heading into the second year of his 10 year contract, nothing is off the table.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There is growing speculation Bell could head to Tampa Bay to be part of head coach Bruce Arians rebuild. (My pick for where Bell lands) Tampa Bay had the 29 ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Peyton Barber rushed for 871 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 20 catches. The glaring issue with Barber was his 3.7 yards per carry. Rookie running back, Ronald Jones had 23 carries for 44 yards. The amount is pitiful for a second round back who was in the old regime doghouse because of ball security issues and pass protection issues. The team is up against the cap with $8 million. Arians could put his own stamp on the defense and purge overpriced underperforming vets to make cap space.
Baltimore Ravens: Unlikely because of their prolific running game last season and trying to keep current players.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback will be the biggest need for the cash-strapped team. With $12 million in cap space, the team will need every dime while foraging around in the free agent quarterback market.
Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles bought his way off the team and onto the free agent market. The move freed up a truckload of cap space but the move barely gets the Eagles into the black. Jay Ajayi heads to free agency, so the need is there.
Houston Texans: Lamar Miller is expendable and D’onta Foreman was very slow coming back from his 2017 injury.
Kansas City Chiefs: With Kareem Hunt gone, and Damian Williams contract being relatively cheap, could they get in on the bidding?
Washington Redskins: Very unlikely with Adrian Peterson coming off a 1,000-yard season but he is a free agent.
New England Patriots: Anything is possible with Bill Belichick.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Stripped Leonard Fournette of his guaranteed money.
Pittsburgh fans have been bombarded with drama for the past year, and they look forward to more peaceful times. Bell is looking towards a lucrative contract that fits his desires as well and put the whole mess behind him. For the first time in his career, he will be able to choose where he plays and how much he is paid for his services. (Unless the Steelers derail his plans.) Will he land with an AFC playoff contender and see the Steelers on the road to the Super Bowl or even a divisional rival? Or will he end up with a team working to rebuild while cashing his checks knowing he will not play in a Super Bowl soon or ever?