The Pittsburgh Steelers had a Pro Bowl trio at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. In a week’s time, two of those three players are expected to no longer be with the team, one signing away in free agency and the other seeing his trade demand carried out.
As we await to see who the Steelers will trade Brown to, and what their compensation will be, Bell is set to become the unrestricted free agent he has been hoping to be for two years now. And per the latest reports, it sounds as though the New York Jets are the current favorite to land the All-Pro running back.
Connor Hughes of The Athletic reports that the Jets are “undeniably the favorite” to sign Bell, but that other teams, namely the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will also be a part of the competition.
Of course, there can be no official discussions between parties until three days before the start of the new league year on Tuesday, when the ‘legal tampering’ window opens and contracts can be negotiated and informally agreed to, which allows players to sign immediately upon the 4 PM start of free agency.
As goes without saying, the Steelers should be rooting for him to sign as large a contract as possible, because it would increase their chances of maximizing their possible compensation in return for Bell in the form of a compensatory draft pick. But they could still end up getting nothing at all for him if they take an aggressive approach to free agency.
General Manager Kevin Colbert has previously said that while they elected not to use the transition tag on the running back after they had it confirmed that the value would be north of $14 million, the team will ‘leave the door open’ for Bell if his market and their market align.
But he also qualified that by noting that the dropoff from what Bell had been able to deliver in the past to what the tandem of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels produced in his absence (which included 16 total touchdowns from scrimmage).
Either way, the Jets intend to land a new starting running back in free agency. If they are unable to lock up Bell, it is reported that they will aggressively pursue Tevin Coleman of the Atlanta Falcons. They have brought in the likes of Matt Forte and LaDainian Tomlinson in the recent past via free agency, so that’s not exactly a shock.
Bell has rushed for 5336 yards on 1229 attempts in 62 career games with 35 touchdowns. He has also caught 312 passes for 2660 yards and seven touchdowns. His average of 129 yards from scrimmage per game is the highest in NFL history. He is coming off a 2018 season in which he chose not to play in order to preserve his health for free agency.