Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will make a fortune in free agency. However, his free agency is pure risk for a team like the Oakland Raiders.
It was relatively quiet on Monday in Raider Nation. We saw that quarterback Derek Carr was going to his third straight Pro Bowl, even in a down year. Then, the Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King let out a bombshell of a tweet. King believes that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell could very well wind up with the Oakland Raiders in 2018. But would this be the best source of Oakland’s below-average available salary cap?
There is little debate how productive Bell has been in his first five years in the league with the Steelers out of Michigan State. His unorthodox running style of where he literally pauses in the backfield has made him one of the best tailbacks in the league.
In five years with the Steelers, Bell has 5,336 career rushing yards for 35 touchdowns. He is as gifted as a receiver out of the backfield with 312 career receptions for 2,660 yards and seven trips to pay dirt. One would think that being able to land a top-15 player in the league would be a proposition that every team would jump at in free agency. However, Bell’s impending free agency is not without significant risk.
Though he is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro, Bell had missed 14 games in 2015 and 2016 due to injury and suspension for substance abuse issues. He has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to play under the franchise tag again in 2018. Bell made $12,120,000 in 2017 alone. That’s not bad on a one-year deal for a top-tier running back.
Yet, Bell was complaining about money days before his Steelers were upset at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Round, 45-42. He was supposedly showing up to games late and missing the bulk of walkthroughs out of mounted frustration. Frankly, this is the type of stuff that a rebounding Raiders team cannot have in its locker room, even if Bell ends up being the best player on next year’s team should he sign with Oakland.
Regardless, Bell will make more than he did last year in his free agency. Keep in mind that the Raiders only have $23,953,640 up against the cap in 2018. That’s good enough for 20th in the league, where the league average is $37,414,115 in available space. So do the Raiders really want to use half of their cap on a guy that hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable in his five years out of East Lansing?
Sure, if the Raiders open up more cap space, somewhere near the league average, that would certainly mitigate the risk of signing Bell to a big contract. However, we do have to realize two other things about his time in Pittsburgh before the Raiders even think about bringing him to the Bay Area.
First, Bell had spent his entire NFL career with the brilliant, but difficult to work with offensive coordinator Todd Haley with the Steelers. Though Haley and Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continuously butted heads, the Steelers hadn’t been that dynamic offensively since Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were hauling in deep balls from Terry Bradshaw. Haley is now working with Hue Jackson for the Cleveland Browns.
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Lastly, we do have to realize that Pittsburgh has driven Bell into the ground in terms of his production. In just 62 career NFL games, Bell has 1,229 carries. He led the league with 321 in 2017 and that includes him sitting out Week 17’s win versus the Browns. There are only so many carries in a running back’s body. It’s clear that the Steelers are trying to get the most out of Bell before he becomes also-ran.
To bring it all back home, yes, it would be awesome to see Bell play for the 2018 Raiders. Odds are that he would be a fantastic player for the Raiders through 2020. However, Oakland should not do more than a three-year deal with him and will have to open up sufficient cap space for his signing to even happen.
Perhaps Bell is a victim of the ultra-loose football culture that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has created in Pittsburgh? If Bell comes to the Raiders and is all about ball, that would be ideal. However, distraction after distraction has hamstrung the Steelers for the last several years from even making it to a Super Bowl. Bell would be a great signing for the Raiders, but assume the risk involved and don’t break the bank if you don’t need to. There are other massive holes to fill on this roster anyway.