In an effort to spice up the offseason, writers for Football Outsiders have taken on the task of suggesting one bold move for every NFL team to make in the coming weeks and months on ESPN.com. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, specifically, Robert Weintraub suggested that they trade running back Le’Veon Bell. Below is Weintraub’s reasoning:
The Steelers’ defense was shredded by Jacksonville, of all teams, in the playoffs, and was never the same after linebacker Ryan Shazier’s injury (though Pittsburgh managed a respectable ninth in defensive DVOA for the season). Now that we know Shazier won’t make it back on the field in 2018 (and possibly beyond), Pittsburgh’s defense needs help, in the back seven especially. Unfortunately, the Steelers’ salary situation (the team is right on the edge of the cap) will make it tough to add players — and signing Bell to the rich contract he envisions would require the team to cut loose guys it could use on defense.
Meanwhile, Bell, while a tremendous player, quietly wasn’t the game-wrecker in 2017 he had been in the past. He ranked eighth in DVOA among running backs and only 28th in efficiency when it came to catching passes out of the backfield. He did manage to stay healthy for the entire season, but that has not been the trend during his career. And while Bell remains a special talent, the Steelers’ passing attack will allow the team to score in bushels with or without a standout runner.
So deal Bell to the 49ers for the No. 9 overall pick, or perhaps to Philly for No. 32 and a defensive player or two (the other Keystone State squad has plenty of them). This will allow the Steelers to restore their defense to what we expect of them, while keeping financially flexible for the years ahead.
This is indeed a bold suggestion and quite honestly, not even that realistic. Sure, the Steelers could indeed trade Bell but first would need to tag him and actually then need his cooperation in order to do so. Analysts make tag-and-trade scenarios seem like they’re very easy, but the fact of the matter is that they aren’t. Besides, the Steelers would not be able to get great trade compensation for Bell, in my honest opinion.
Trading Bell away would also create a big hole in the Steelers offense that would need to be filled and probably by more than one player. Bell is an every-down running back and able to contribute in any situation and that includes pass protection.
The Steelers have said several times over the course of the last few weeks that their goal is to sign Bell to a long-term contract extension this offseason. They said the same thing a year ago and both sides ultimately failed to reach an agreement after the franchise tag was placed on Bell. This year the Steelers will again place the tag on Bell if they can’t sign him to a new contract prior to the March 6 deadline.
Even if a repeat of last year happens, the Steelers need to retain Bell for the 2018 season as they’ll be able to work around his $14.54 million salary with relative ease. After the 2018 season is over, Bell can be allowed to leave via free agency after hopefully another All-Pro season complete with 400 or more total touches. The Steelers would then likely receive a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2020 for losing Bell.
In short, Weintraub suggesting the Steelers trade Bell is beyond bold as it’s borderline ludicrous. He could have come up with another bold suggestion that was a little more realistic.