Le’Veon Bell joined the Buccaneers earlier this week. They are his fifth team and fourth in the past 14 months. Following the Ravens’ decision to waive him earlier this season, the 29-year-old running back considered retirement, Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes. While Bell has not been much of a factor since his final Steelers season, in 2017, he had not been an in-season free agent for a lengthy stretch until this year. The Ravens cut Bell on Nov. 16. The Bucs, who are in need at running back after Leonard Fournette‘s IR placement, may well give him an opportunity on third downs and as a change-of-pace option behind Ronald Jones. Bell also expressed regret for how public his Steelers franchise tag dispute became in 2018, though the former All-Pro said he does not regret skipping that season. While that move ended up benefiting Bell financially, via the lucrative guarantee he received from the Jets in 2019, his career has never recovered from that decision.
Here is the latest from the NFC South:
- Although the Panthers have drifted out of contention and have gone 10-20 under Matt Rhule, the drumbeat of the ex-college HC staying on for a third season continues. Despite Carolina’s 4-10 record, Rhule is still expected to receive a third season, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). David Tepper, naturally, is unhappy about being 0-for-4 in winning seasons as owner; this will put more heat on Rhule if/once he comes back in 2022. Rhule returning gibes with what we’ve heard out of Charlotte in recent weeks. Rhule received a monster contract in 2020 — seven years, $62MM — but has not delivered just yet, largely due to decisions at quarterback. The Panthers have bounced from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to P.J. Walker and back to Newton over the past year and change. Rhule said this week Darnold will return to action and play some against the Bucs.
- Sean Payton returned to Saints headquarters Friday, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com tweets. Payton contracted the coronavirus for a second time and missed New Orleans’ shutout win in Tampa. He will be back for a coaching assignment that will involve game-planning for rookie Ian Book’s first regular-season snaps. Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian are on the Saints’ COVID-19 list.
- Hill’s second Saints extension will pay between $40MM and $95MM, depending on his role. Hill’s 2022 salary ($10.1MM) is fully guaranteed, with his 2023 base ($9.9MM) becoming guaranteed in March 2022, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. However, the other components of this contract are more complex. Hill’s 2023-25 salaries can increase by $12MM per year if he throws at least 224 regular-season passes the previous year. That prospect will hinge on how the Saints proceed at quarterback in 2022, when Jameis Winston is a free agent. There are also $18MM in incentives included, Florio adds, with many of those escalators tied to passing statistics. Essentially, this is a two-year, $20MM deal with significant upside for Hill, who will be 32 by Week 1 of next season.
- The Bucs‘ Week 15 injury avalanche will indeed cost them Mike Evans for at least one game. The Pro Bowl wideout did not practice this week and will miss the Bucs-Panthers matchup Sunday. Evans suffered a hamstring injury against the Saints. The Bucs will also be without Fournette and Lavonte David, whom they placed on IR Thursday, due to injuries suffered last week. Chris Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL.