If you buy into the multiplying reports emerging from New York – sorry, rustic New Jersey – the Jets are eager to trade running back Le'Veon Bell.
If you think you've heard Bell's name on the block before, well … yep.
The Pittsburgh Steelers never managed to deal the two-time All-Pro in 2018, when Bell wound up sitting out the season rather than play on a $14.5 million franchise tag.
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets last year. Since then, the deal has mostly served to spotlight philosophical differences between embattled coach Adam Gase and former general manager Mike Maccagnan – he was fired two months after importing Bell – as well as an apparent undertow of friction between Gase and Bell himself. The coach has, on multiple occasions, publicly attempted to affirm his relationship with Bell amid rumors he never wanted him on the roster in the first place or while doing damage control when the seven-year veteran sends cryptic signals on social media that seemingly place him at odds with Gase.
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New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell (26) walks off the field following the game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium. (Photo: Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports)
The Jets attempted to jettison Bell last season, per multiple reports, but found no takers for a player whose income averages $13.1 million annually. Among running backs, only Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara – all substantially more productive players than Bell at this point – earn more on average.
The Jets will have paid Bell the entirety of his $27 million in guarantees by the end of this season, when his base salary is $8.5 million. He's due $8 million in base salary next year and $9.5 million in 2022 – quite a lot of cheddar for a guy who's averaged 80.2 yards from scrimmage per outing since coming to New York and 3.3 yards per carry. (Bell averaged 1 yard more per rush with the Steelers and nearly 129 yards from scrimmage per game.)
He's also already missed three games in 2020 with a hamstring injury. And while Bell's disappointing stint in New York isn't entirely his fault, it's hard to foresee much of a market building for an expensive 28-year-old who plays a position that generally isn't earmarked for significant cap resources.
Regardless, if the Jets are willing to receive – quarters on the dollar? dimes? – to move on from Bell, here are six (sort of) teams that might emerge as potential suitors ahead of the Nov. 3 trade deadline:
Chicago Bears: Effective as big-bodied possession receiver Allen Robinson can be, QB Nick Foles isn't working with any dynamic weapons – a problem exacerbated by the season-ending loss of RB Tarik Cohen to a knee injury. Bell doesn't possess Cohen's jitterbug factor, but he is a natural receiver who could complement Robinson and No. 1 RB David Montgomery, while also spelling the latter and even sharing the field with him. Improbable as the Bears' 4-1 start is, they're solidifying themselves in the wild-card race and are only a half-game behind the undefeated Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. But adding reinforcements seems imperative if Chicago is to remain in playoff contention.
Kansas City Chiefs: Since rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire's 138-yard rushing outburst in his pro debut, the champs have averaged a pedestrian (for them) 107.8 yards per game on the ground. Edwards-Helaire is clearly the future here – and the present, too. But with Damien Williams opting out of this season, K.C. looks disturbingly thin behind their first-round pick. Bell would provide not only insurance but could also make an instant impact as a change-of-pace or third-down back – surely able to chew up chunks of yardage given the space created underneath as WRs Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman and TE Travis Kelce stretch defenses to their limits.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Worth considering, unlikely as a reunion seems. Durability isn't starting RB James Conner's calling card, and second-year understudy Benny Snell Jr. has four career receptions. And where else could Bell make an immediate splash given his familiarity with QB Ben Roethlisberger and this proud team's culture? And sure would be nice to play relevant games again, Pittsburgh off to its first 4-0 start since the Steel Curtain era. And who knows? A reconciliation really might work long term when considering Conner is unsigned beyond this season.
San Francisco 49ers: Let's first acknowledge they've got a fleet of running backs that includes Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman (currently injured) plus FB Kyle Juszczyk. And yet this sputtering offense, which barely cracks the top 10 in rushing yards per game, needs some kind of spark. Bell could conceivably provide that even if used primarily out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of doing – and especially if he were to join such a raw group of receivers.
Tennessee Titans: Pop quiz – who steps into the breach if 2019 rushing champ Derrick Henry goes down? Answer: Who knows? The depth chart suggests rookie Darrynton Evans and/or Jeremy McNichols would attempt to fill the void, but would they really be enough to sustain a team that rode Henry to the brink of the Super Bowl last season? Even if Henry continues to mow down opposing defenders without a sustaining a scratch, it would still make sense to kick the tires on Bell given what an extremely limited receiver Henry continues to be.
Team X: Admittedly, a copout answer. But a lot can happen between now and the completion of Week 8, the final round of games preceding the trade deadline. Cohen and Saquon Barkley are already gone for the year (not that the Giants will be in the market). But McCaffrey continues to sit with a high ankle sprain, and the Browns' Nick Chubb – he finished second to Henry in rushing last year – is currently on injured reserve with a knee injury. Meanwhile, teams with legitimate playoff inspirations – think Seahawks, Colts, Raiders, Cowboys, Eagles and Saints – are just one catastrophic backfield injury from seeing their hopes dissipate. And if you're Jets GM Joe Douglas, a desperate trade partner is the one you want to dance with.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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