Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
When the new league year begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday, several notable NFL players will change teams via free agency and trades.
Running back Le’Veon Bell will likely be among them. He’s the top player in what is a relatively underwhelming running back market, and there are plenty of teams with the cap space available to make him competitive offers.
The question, of course, is which team has both the cap space and the interest to add Bell, who refused to play under the franchise tag in 2018. We don’t have the answer yet, but with teams legally allowed to contact players beginning Monday, we soon will.
That team probably won’t be the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, his chosen franchise could feature former Steelers teammate Antonio Brown.
Brown was traded over the weekend to the Oakland Raiders for the bargain price of a third- and fifth-round pick. Of course, the Raiders also had to agree to give Brown a new three-year, $50 million deal that included $30.1 million in guarantees.
Oakland could be interested in reuniting Brown and Bell. Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac believes the Raiders may soon offer Bell a deal similar to the one they gave Brown. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero provided more insight on the Raiders and other teams:
It’s perfectly possible, if not likely, that the #Raiders offer Le’Veon Bell the exact same 3 year, $50M-ish, $30M-ish guaranteed contract in a few days.
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
One sleeper team for RB Le’Veon Bell: The #Raiders. He’ll have a ton of suitors, but Oakland will be ready and is willing to spend for star power even after acquiring Antonio Brown.
Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero
When the negotiating window opens today, expect a bunch of teams to be in the mix for free agent RB Le’Veon Bell — a list that includes the #Jets, #49ers and, yes, the #Raiders. A Pittsburgh reunion in the Bay? @gmfb @nflnetwork https://t.co/77vGORxD1x
Adding Bell makes sense on multiple levels. For one, the Raiders have a need at running back. They’re also projected to have plenty of cap space, so offering Bell a hefty deal wouldn’t be an issue.
Plus, Brown and Bell have experience complementing each other on the field. Having the two in the Raiders offense wouldn’t suddenly catapult Oakland to the top of the AFC West, but it would certainly make them more entertaining.
“Do it for that hardcore fanbase in the Bay Area that has been showing up despite the franchise being in perpetual purgatory,” Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote.
Adding fuel to the speculative fire is the fact that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr began following Bell on Twitter shortly after the Brown acquisition.
Dov Kleiman @NFL_DovKleiman
And #Raiders QB Derek Carr just followed @LeVeonBell
While this obviously means little in and of itself, one could surmise that Carr is having thoughts of forming his own Big Three.
There are a couple of teams that could stand in the way, namely ones carrying more salary-cap space. The Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills are all projected to have more cap space, and all three could conceivably have a place for Bell.
The Jets seem like the team most likely to make a push, as they desperately need a running back to help support second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. However, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com has reported the Jets are showing “little interest” in Bell and could instead target second-tier running backs in free agency (guys like Tevin Coleman, Mark Ingram and Jay Ajayi).
The Colts will be armed with the most cap room in the NFL, but they don’t have as great a need at running back. Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines forged a formidable backfield duo in 2018; however, the Colts aren’t completely out of the market.
According to Rapoport (h/t Indy SportsOne), Indianapolis could provide Bell with a home “if the price is right.” This likely means Indy isn’t a team the Raiders would have to heavily outbid.
Buffalo has LeSean McCoy but is obviously looking to upgrade its offensive talent. Brown was set to land with the Bills before he was traded to Oakland, but he put a stop to the move.
Jason La Canfora @JasonLaCanfora
Brown was unwilling to go to Buffalo, period. Wasnt even a matter of money at that point. So the deal fell through. Steelers and Bills had stopped talking and both sides had moved on. Market for Brown is pretty bleak right now
If Bell is willing to play in Buffalo, he’d make for a nice consolation prize.
There will be other teams interested—John Clayton of the Chicago Tribune mentioned the Baltimore Ravens as a potential dark horse—but not many can afford to get into a bidding war with the Raiders.
All contract and cap information via Spotrac.