Could Bell provide a boost to a playoff contender in a complementary role?
A mere month and a half after the Jaguars cut Leonard Fournette loose, another disgruntled running back will have to find a new home. Just 17 games into a $27 million guaranteed deal, the New York Jets announced on Tuesday that they were releasing three-time Pro Bowler Le'Veon Bell.
The Jets reportedly tried to trade the 28-year-old but could not find a taker and will be on the hook for his remaining guarantees, so whichever team signs Bell can have him for the NFL league minimum.
Just three years ago, Bell led the league with 406 touches and produced 1,946 total yards. Through his first five years, he totaled 7,996 total yards, and his 129.0 yards per game were the most among any player through that point in their career. But to say that his production has gone south since his 2018 holdout would be an understatement.
Bell's 3.2 yards per carry average was 46th out of 47 qualified rushers last season, and he only produced 36 first downs after picking up 71 and 70 in his two previous seasons. Things haven't gone too much better in two games this season: 19 carries for 74 yards (3.9 ypc) with just three receptions.
Bell may have worn out his welcome in New York — although he's far from the only issue on the Jets — but he should still be able to help a contender, especially in a complementary role. Just look at Fournette, who's up to a career-high 5.1 yards per carry on 24 total attempts through four games with the Buccaneers.
A reunion with the Steelers seems unlikely, but there are plenty of other teams who should be interested. There have been several big running back injuries this season already, and another one in the near future could open another home as well. For now, here's a look at Bell's five most likely landing spots.
Miles Sanders has been effective when healthy (5.1 ypc), but he already missed the season opener with a hamstring injury. With apologies to Boston Scott, the Eagles could use a veteran backup for the talented second-year player, and Bell could fill that role. Philly already expressed interest in him when the Steelers were shopping him in 2017 and when he was a free agent.
Getting Carson Wentz enough weapons has been a constant problem in Philadelphia. Last season, he became the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards without having a wide receiver reach 500 yards, and injuries have already forced DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Reagor, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside to miss time. Bell's (one-time) effectiveness in the passing game could make him a good fit.
Chicago also could use some more production from its pass catchers and was hoping to make up for that with Darren Sproles 2.0 in Tarik Cohen. But with Cohen sidelined for the season with a torn ACL, the Bears are thin at running back behind David Montgomery.
The Bears are one of eight teams averaging less than 100 rushing yards per game, and they are last in the league with just one rushing touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson is the only other "running back" to receive multiple carries, and he's no one's definition of a bell-cow back should Montgomery miss any time.
Kansas City Chiefs
We highlighted the Chiefs as the top landing spot for Fournette, and they remain a top contender for all the same reasons. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is an extremely talented back, but the team could use a short-yardage complement so that they don't wear him out. With Damien Williams opting out of the season, Edwards-Helaire has 81 of the team's 100 carries by backs.
The rookie out of LSU has taken a step back, too, after a dominant debut with 138 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't scored in a game or averaged more than four yards per carry since. Whether he's fatiguing or the league is catching up to him or any other reason, Edwards-Helaire could take a partner to share the load with and let him utilize his speed on the outside more.
The Seahawks were one of the most run-heavy teams last season but have been far more balanced this season. Many see that as a good thing that they're letting Russell Wilson cook, but it's also probably a matter of time before Pete Carroll will want to run the ball more.
Chris Carson has been effective with a healthy 4.7 yards per carry, but he has a long injury history that remains a concern. The backup duo of Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer has been a bit of a disappointment (3.6 and 3.9 ypc, respectively), and it's hard to know what they may get from Rashaad Penny when he returns from his torn ACL.
Washington Football Team
Yes, this is by far the least competitive team on this list. But remember that Washington is only a half game out of the playoffs, and it won't take much to win the NFC East. Rushing has been Washington's weakest link this season — 81.4 yards per game puts the team 31st in the NFL — and rookie Antonio Gibson, while effective, is not a traditional three-down back.
The question becomes whether Washington will want to bring in another over-the-hill veteran to potentially boost the ground game. They already booted Adrian Peterson at the start of the year, and he was more effective than Bell last season. However, doing nothing is not a great answer if they want to make a run for the playoffs, and that appears to be a distinct possibility under Ron Rivera.