Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Best fits, who can afford RB, who doesn’t need him
Regardless of whether Le’Veon Bell reports to the Steelers and signs his franchise tender Tuesday, one thing is already a near certainty: The 26-year-old running back will play for a different NFL team in 2019.
Bell will not be franchise-tagged again and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, not long after he turns 27. While that’s near the older side for his position, he has limited wear after five incomplete regular seasons and will be refreshed after his year away from the field.
MORE: Making sense of Bell’s options before deadline
Bell will not break the bank the way he wants in free agency, but somebody will compensate him with good guaranteed money in relation to the market.
The question: What teams will be willing and able to spend on Bell, and what teams can we rule out? (2019 salary cap projections via Overthecap.com)
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Best fits
AFC: Dolphins, Jets, Raiders
As well as Frank Gore has played in Miami, he will hit free agency before his age-36 season. And as talented as Kenyan Drake is, coach Adam Gase does not trust him enough to give him consistent double-digit touches. Bell could provide the Dolphins a hard-running veteran who could run for chunk yardage and be dynamo in their passing game. He’s an ideal player to feature in their offense, and based on social media, we know he doesn’t mind Miami.
The Jets are not getting justifiable returns from Isaiah Crowell, and Bilal Powell will be a 30-year-old free agent next year coming off neck surgery. Elijah McGuire and Trent Cannon have flashed, but they are change-of-pace types. Sam Darnold needs a legit back to ease the pressure, as Baker Mayfield (Nick Chubb), Josh Rosen (David Johnson) and Josh Allen (McCoy) have had to varying degrees as rookie first-round QBs this season. Bell could be a major asset for (likely) a new, offensive-minded head coach.
The Raiders lost Marshawn Lynch to a season-ending groin injury, and at 32, he is unsigned beyond 2018. Doug Martin has run hard in Lynch’s place, but he also is on a one-year deal. Given how much Jon Gruden seems to love big-name veterans in his offense, he would sign off on making Bell a hefty offer.
MORE: How Bell already seems like an ex-Steeler
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Good fits
AFC: Ravens, Texans
Baltimore has been a pass-happy team this season with limited power-running results from Alex Collins. The Ravens were disappointed enough in their backs to trade for Ty Montgomery; they also are in line to field a new offense next season with the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco combination reaching its end.
In Bell, presumed new Ravens QB Lamar Jackson would have a dangerous outlet in the short passing game. The Ravens also should think about how Bell, a former player for their AFC North rivals, will be motivated to help them.
In Houston, Lamar Miller is starting to look pedestrian, and once-promising D’Onta Foreman is recovering from a torn Achilles. Bell could take the Texans’ offense to the next level flanking Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller.
Chicago has tried to plug the square peg that is Jordan Howard into the round hole that is Matt Nagy’s wide-open offense, and it hasn’t worked. The Bears love Tarik Cohen, but he is best suited to be a pure receiving back. Bell is a versatile workhorse who could handle both the power running and the spread receiving. Imagine Bell supporting Mitchell Trubisky and all those new weapons.
The Bears, like the Rams, have realized it’s smart to be aggressive and load up around a first-round QB who’s still on his rookie deal.
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Teams that will be tempted
Buffalo (passing offense) and Tampa Bay (passing defense) will have other priorities in free agency. The Bills also have LeSean McCoy signed for one more year at $6 million. The Bucs need help at running back, but quarterback, coach and offensive coordinator are bigger quandaries.
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Teams that can afford him but don’t need him
AFC: Colts, Titans, Broncos
NFC: Redskins, Packers, 49ers
The Colts suddenly have a nice young committee with Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. The Titans suddenly are feeling better about their Dion Lewis-Derrick Henry combination.
The Broncos and 49ers have proved they can find undrafted gems in Phillip Lindsay and Matt Breida, then plug in system power backs to complement them. The Redskins, who will be limited in cap space for 2019, will hope for a healthy rebound from Derrius Guice.
Bell might have made sense for the Packers before they finally trusted Aaron Jones enough to let him loose in their offense.
MORE: NFL’s highest-paid players in 2018
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Teams that can’t afford him
Before this year’s trade deadline, rumors suggested Philadelphia was interested in keeping bell in the Keystone State with a midseason trade. The Eagles’ running game has struggled all season, in part due to injuries. But coach Doug Pederson likes the committee approach, which now features two undrafted players (Josh Adams, Corey Clement) and a fifth-rounder (Wendell Smallwood).
Bell also is a luxury the Eagles can’t afford in 2019, when, per OverTheCap.com, they will face the league’s worst salary cap situation.
Le’Veon Bell free agency 2019: Teams that don’t need him
AFC: Patriots, Jaguars, Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Chargers
NFC: Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Lions, Vikings, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks
These teams have either drafted a running back they like over the past three years or locked up a young veteran to a lucrative, long-term deal. Bell won’t be hearing a ring tone from any of these 16 teams in 2019.
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