So, the New York Jets are reportedly trying to trade Le’Veon Bell. What else is new. The rocky relationship between the star running back and much-maligned head coach Adam Gase seems like it’s been in place ever since Bell’s pen hit the paper of his Jets contract. In the subsequent months since the March 2019 pact, lack of usage, poor performances, liked critical social media posts, and a whole lot of losing has chipped away at an already fragile relationship between player and coach. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when this relationship will end.
The Jets could cut Bell in the offseason, avoiding his $3 million August 1 reporting bonus. New York would carry a dead money cap hit of $4 million in 2021 but would free up a little more than $9.4 million against the salary cap compared to Bell being on the roster. The Jets could cut ties with Gase, who has no business entering the 2021 season with a head coaching job in the NFL or any other level of football. Or, they could decide to move Bell in the next three weeks before the trade deadline.
If the Jets decide to trade Bell, they’re going to have a very limited market to work with. Because his contract is cuttable after the season, there’s no reason to attach a draft pick to him in an attempt to simply get Bell off the books. So any trade needs to net a positive asset for New York, which further limits potential options. Most teams are either set at running back or are not at the appropriate position in their rebuild to move draft picks to acquire Bell.
Let’s have a little fun, though. While I believe Bell ends the 2020 season with the Jets, there are a few teams that could be solid landing spots for the former Pro Bowler. Let’s take a look at the top three.
The Jets and Dolphins almost never trade with each other. Their last processed trade was back in 1996, when the Dolphins acquired offensive tackle James Brown in exchange for a fifth-round pick. However, the word “processed” was included in the prior sentence because there was a deal in place this season for the Dolphins to send running back Kalen Ballage to the Jets that was nixed due to a failed physical. Maybe these two can discuss another running back deal.
The Jets need to be willing to accept a Day 3 pick (and not a good one), but if they get desperate, the Dolphins would be a really nice fit. Matt Breida is a pending free agent and the trade for him during the 2020 NFL Draft appears to be a waste. Jordan Howard, a free agent signing from this past offseason, has been a bust and has an easily cuttable contract in the offseason. Myles Gaskin has had some success and has been impressive this season, but he’s on a very inexpensive contract and can serve as a solid No. 2 option.
While Bell won’t be as dynamic as he was in Pittsburgh, his ability as a pass-catcher can go a long way in providing young quarterback prospect Tua Tagovailoa with a reliable safety net late this season and for 2021, when the former Alabama star is the presumed starting quarterback. Miami has the eighth-most projected cap space available for 2021 and can either restructure Bell’s deal or cut him after the 2021 season to recoup $13 million of his $15 million cap hit for 2022. The potential to get at least 1.5 seasons of Bell for a Day 3 pick would be well worth the price, even if he’s not the long-term answer.
I’d love to see this happen and it’s not too far-fetched given that Bell said the Steelers already tried to trade for him. James Conner is a pending free agent, and while he’s been pretty good since Bell’s yearlong holdout thrust him into the starting role, his injuries have piled up. There’s a real chance that the amount of money Conner is seeking in his next deal won’t match up with the number general manager Kevin Colbert has in mind.
There is absolutely no concern about the fit in the offense, how he’ll interact with teammates, and what kind of success Bell can have in Pittsburgh. The one concern is the salary cap. The Steelers are about $17 million over next year’s projected cap, and a $13.4 million hit from a running back might just be too much to stomach. However, a restructure could relieve about $5 million of that $13.4 million cap hit for next season.
This would be a luxury addition for the Steelers, who can get by with Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, and Jaylen Samuels in 2021, but their Super Bowl window with Ben Roethlisberger is short. Anything to help them win in 2020 and/or 2021 must be considered.
The Cardinals and general manager Steve Keim might be thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t lock up Kenyan Drake long-term after his second-half, post-trade breakout last season. Drake has been nothing more than OK this season, often looking less explosive than backup Chase Edmonds. Drake is on a one-year, $8.5 million deal that the team can just let expire in the offseason if they find a better option. Bell could be that option.
A reliable receiver, Bell would fit nicely alongside Kyler Murray out of the shotgun in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. Bell has a longer history of success than Drake and can be a true check-down option for Murray, who has struggled to consistently target a non-DeAndre Hopkins pass-catcher this season. The combination of Bell and Edmonds would be a little over $5 million more expensive on the 2021 salary cap than the combo of Drake and Edmonds this year, but most of that difference can be made up in a restructure.
Arizona’s offense needs a spark this season and needs to take a big step forward in 2021 as expected playoff contenders. The addition of Hopkins this offseason has been great, but Murray needs to trust more than just him for this offense—and the quarterback himself—to reach full potential. The addition of Bell certainly helps that process. Plus, Drake can be a piece that goes back to the Jets in a hypothetical deal to help make the money work in 2020.
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