I know a lot of people here have grown weary of ESPN, and some have even had direct issues with their Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer, Jeremy Fowler, specifically about the impression that he goaded running back Le’Veon Bell into talking about his contract prior to the playoff game last year.
You probably saw that he made a valiant attempt at taking a stab at the Bell contract negotiations yesterday though, and I think he came away doing a fine job. There were quite a few interesting tidbits there that at least have the appearance of being vetted by prime sources (e.g. Bell and members of the team).
Particularly interesting for me is the note on which he ended, painting the Steelers’ interest in the running back position during the 2018 NFL Draft as entirely genuine. If the team and Bell fail to reach a long-term agreement by mid-June, then he is likely to hit the open market next year, and then is likely to reach a deal with a new team.
“The Steelers are prepared to protect themselves, since Bell negotiations have proved difficult”, Fowler wrote. He described the team’s interest in LSU running back Derrius Guice as “genuine”, saying that “his interview with the team at the combine was described to me as all hands on deck”. He also met with members of the front office for dinner while they were there for his Pro Day.
If available at 28, it is quite possible that Guice would be the best player available for the Steelers to take. After reading Fowler’s take, I am leaning closer to the belief that they might actually draft him if given the opportunity, depending of course upon who else is there.
“If the team nabs a running back during the first two days of the draft, they are officially ready for anything”, Fowler concluded in his article. Of course, it would be fairly obvious that taking a running back early in the draft would strongly indicate that they are preparing to move on.
Those who oppose this plan argue that the rookie running back would not help the team win in 2018 because Bell hardly comes off the field. He played over 90 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps last season.
One might counterargue that the rookie would receive more playing time early in the season while Bell is off on his own. The Steelers did hold him back earlier in the season, especially in the opener, and he did struggle.
The early games might allow a rookie running back to get his foot in the door with respect to playing time, which might lead to a larger percentage of snaps later on in the year. This also assumes that Bell remains healthy, and right now 2017 was an aberration in that respect.
For those salivating over the prospect of the Steelers drafting Guice and rescinding Bell’s tag, however, don’t count on that even if they do draft the running back. As has frequently said, that doesn’t help them much now that free agency is all but over, though I will say it’s a bit disingenuous because they would carry over this year’s cap space over the next year, so it would benefit in 2019.