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The Pessimist’s Take – Finding Bell’s Backup In Free Agency

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.

Question: Should the Steelers continue to look to free agency for a complement to Le’Veon Bell?

The Steelers have spent the past two seasons, the first two of Bell’s career, exploring the free agent market to find a suitable backup for their young bell cow running back. The most notable names include Felix Jones and LeGarrette Blount, neither of which panned out.

Just because they failed to find success on the backup running back market in previous years, however, does not mean that they should abandon hope. But perhaps the encouraging crop of running backs coming out of college this year does.

It’s also worth considering just how well rookie backs have excelled in recent years, such as the entire Cleveland Browns backfield with Terrance West and others. The Cincinnati Bengals also struck it rich with Jeremy Hill a year after taking Giovani Bernard ahead of Bell.

So why should the Steelers not also prominently feature a young backfield, when other teams around the league have already established the blueprints for its success? After all, running back is one of the easier positions in the league in which to find immediate success.

And let’s not also forget that Bell himself has already become an exceptional talent, becoming an All-Pro and doing things that only Walter Payton had done before, breaking team records in the process.

Bell may still be young, but he is a very mature football player and an every down back who can run, catch, and pass protect with comfortable efficiency all while protecting the football. In nearly 400 touches a year ago, he didn’t put the ball on the ground once.

Taking in a veteran back who is expecting to split some carries could lead to internal locker room turmoil down the road. What is needed is a back who is comfortable waiting his turn but who can be efficient enough in a starting role if necessary. The draft will feature a number of enticing running back options scattered throughout its three-day festivities, and they will come with a rookie price tag. A free agent alternative may prove unnecessary.

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