Le'Veon Bell

This Date In Transactions History: Steelers Extend Antonio Brown, Franchise Le’Veon Bell

On February 27, 2017, things were looking pretty good in Pittsburgh. Following a 2016 campaign that saw the Steelers make it to the AFC Championship, the organization committed to two of their offensive stars on the same day. On this date four years ago, the organization extended wideout Antonio Brown and franchised running back Le’Veon Bell. No one knew at the time that both these players would soon be playing for different teams.

By 2017, the two duo had already proven themselves among the top players at their respective positions. Brown was coming off four-straight campaigns that saw him surpass 1,000 yards receiving, and he hauled in 43 touchdowns during that four-year span. There had yet to be much drama for the perennial Pro Bowler; while a 2016 locker-room video led to discipline, Brown had otherwise been a good soldier. As a result, the Steelers felt more than comfortable making him the (then) highest-paid pass-catcher of all-time. The wideout ended up inking a lucrative four-year extension worth $68MM ($19MM guaranteed) that would last through the 2021 season.

“Antonio is a good guy, a good person,” team president Art Rooney II said at the time. “I enjoy our personal relationship. His teammates like to have him on the team. He is a hard worker.

“AB is a big contributor to our success, has been for several years now, and I think he’s capable of continuing to be that kind of player. I think he’s someone who wants to be a great player and works hard to be that. Hopefully, he’ll continue to evolve as a player and as a person.”

Despite only appearing in 12 games during the 2016 season, Bell still put up some gaudy numbers. He finished the campaign with 1,884 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns, earning him a Pro Bowl spot. While the two sides were eager to figure out a long-term deal, the Steelers ultimately placed the franchise tag on their star running back, locking him into a $12MM salary for 2017. After becoming the fastest player in NFL history to hit 3,000 career rushing yards and 1,500 career receiving yards, coach Mike Tomlin said at the time that the team wanted to reward their running back for his continued improvement.

“Just understanding how to play the position, the nuances of the position, the protection of the ball, the protection of himself,” the head coach said. “He is a guy that has got some talent, but equally or more important than that he has a desire to be great and a work ethic to boot. He is a much better conditioned athlete today that he was in 2014. I mean it when I say all areas.”

2017 proved to be a fine year for Brown, Bell, and the Steelers. Both players earned Pro Bowl nods after combining for 3,479 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns en route to a 13-win campaign. The wheels fell off soon after. During the 2018 offseason, the Steelers once again slapped the franchise tag on Bell, but the running back refused to sign the tender. Despite occasional reports of reconciliation and a potential long-term extension, Bell’s hold out ended up lasting the entire season. He became a free agent the following offseason and inked a four-year deal with the Jets.

Brown was productive again in 2018, finishing with a career-high 15 receiving touchdowns. However, there started to be some reports of tension toward the end of that campaign. Brown apparently engaged in an argument with Ben Roethlisberger and skipped practices before their Week 17 content, leading to Brown’s benching. We later learned that Brown had become disgruntled with his role in Pittsburgh and wanted a trade. The Steelers agreed that a breakup was necessary, and they dealt Brown to the Raiders during the 2019 offseason.

Things haven’t necessarily gone swimmingly for either player since leaving Pittsburgh. Bell’s stint in New York last less than two seasons, and after cutting cut in October, he settled into a minor backup role with the Chiefs. Brown’s stint with the Raiders barely last six months; following bizarre behavior and arguments with executives, he was released by the team. He subsequently joined the Patriots, but he was cut following allegations of sexual misconduct. Following a retirement, an un-retirement, another retirement, and another un-retirement, Brown was slapped with an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He caught on with the Buccaneers in October, and he ended up hauling in two playoff touchdowns during Tampa Bay’s path to a Super Bowl championship (which somewhat ironically came against Bell’s Chiefs).

The Steelers struggled a bit during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, combining for only 17 wins between the two seasons. They got back to their winning ways in 2020, finished 12-4 before losing in the Wild Card game.

When these transactions were completed four years ago today, there was plenty of excitement for both the players and the team. We’re sure neither side anticipated how both of these scenarios would ultimately play out.

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Le’Veon Bell To Sign With Chiefs

The Chiefs have won the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes. The two-time All-Pro running back agreed to a deal to sign with the defending Super Bowl champions, Tom Pelissero and Jim Trotter of NFL.com report (on Twitter).

Bell considered the Bills and Dolphins as well, and the Dolphins were believed to have offered a two-year deal. But the Chiefs, who were on the verge of an agreement with Bell on Wednesday night, have landed the recently released back.

It is a one-year contract with incentives, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter and SI.com’s Albert Breer (Twitter links). Bell indeed was hoping to catch on with a contender, per Schefter. After spending parts of two seasons with a struggling Jets team, the former Steelers standout will be back in a playoff race.

This will give Clyde Edwards-Helaire an experienced tandem partner, with this Bell agreement putting him on track to take over for Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson as the rookie’s top backup. But while 2019 late-summer free agency addition LeSean McCoy could not stick as Damien Williams‘ backup, Bell was prioritizing fit in an offense. It seems likely he will see a significant role alongside Edwards-Helaire.

While McCoy had strong track records on two teams, Bell bombed with his second franchise. Adam Gase did not want the running back at the $13.25MM-per-year price, and the Jets fit indeed turned out to be poor. The former Steelers dynamo lumbered for a career-low 3.2 yards per carry in 2019. This season, he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 and missed three games. Upon return in Week 5, Bell did average 4.62 yards per tote. That is a small sample size, but the showing may have reignited the Jets’ efforts to deal Bell. No takers emerged, and the team cut its losses with a Tuesday release. Bell will land with a much better offense.

Kansas City’s offense now houses five former first-team All-Pros — Bell, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Mitchell Schwartz and Tyreek Hill. (This number would have been six had ex-Bell teammate Kelechi Osemele not suffered severe knee injuries Sunday.) While this was the case last year with McCoy as well, the 28-year-old Bell brings lower mileage to Kansas City. Aided by his skipping the 2018 season in a franchise tag dispute with the Steelers, Bell has 1,874 career touches. McCoy had over 2,800 when he signed with Kansas City.

Bell will need to prove he still has upper-echelon ability; he did not record a 20-yard run as a Jet. His most recent 100-yard rushing game came in 2017; the former second-round pick never cleared 90 rushing yards in a Jets game. As a Steeler, Bell posted 1,800-plus scrimmage yards three times en route to the 2014 and ’17 All-Pro teams. He added three 75-catch seasons in that span, so seeing how Andy Reid deploys him will be an interesting October NFL storyline.

The earliest Bell could make his Chiefs debut would be Week 7, with COVID-19 protocols requiring free agents to pass nearly a week’s worth of coronavirus tests in order to begin practicing with their new teams. The Chiefs face the Jets in Week 8.

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Jets Notes: Bell, Gase, Darnold, Anderson

Here is the latest from the Jets, beginning with some fallout from their disappointing Le’Veon Bell contract:

  • Adam Gase took issue with Bell’s social media habits and was said to have expressed dissatisfaction with the running back last season. That was a two-way street, to a degree. Bell expressed disappointment in Gase’s game plans in 2019, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Bell discussed the prospect of requesting a trade this offseason, should his Jets situation fail to improve, but decided instead to stay the course, Mehta adds. This, however, ended up being a moot subject — largely because of Bell’s disastrous contract. The Jets, who previously shopped Bell’s lucrative deal, released him Tuesday.
  • The Jets will be without Sam Darnold again this week against the Dolphins. The team will hold its starting quarterback out of its Week 6 contest, giving offseason addition Joe Flacco another start. Flacco averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt in a 195-yard day against the Cardinals.
  • By Sunday, Darnold will have missed seven career starts in his three-season NFL tenure. Durability may be a concern, even though Darnold’s absences have been related to two separate injuries and mononucleosis. The former No. 3 overall pick’s coverage recognition, however, has been a discussion point this season, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. The Jets will need to decide on Darnold’s fifth-year option by May, but they may be in position to draft Clemson prodigy Trevor Lawrence. More intel on Darnold will be necessary by season’s end, even if the team does not land the No. 1 overall pick.
  • Robby Anderson‘s Panthers pact has thus far worked out well for Carolina. On a three-game win streak, the Panthers have seen the former Jets deep threat thrive in an all-around role. Anderson has eclipsed 99 receiving yards in four of Carolina’s five games and leads the team — by more than 100 yards — with 489. Anderson did not produce a 1,000-yard season with the Jets and intimated he prefers his Panthers role. “I love being in this system because for so long it was, ‘Oh, he’s only a deep threat,'” Anderson said during an interview with Josina Anderson (via Cimini). “It used to eat me up because I’m like, ‘I know what I can do.’ I love that I’m in this offense, where I really get to catch and run and play football.” Anderson signed a two-year, $20MM deal ($12MM guaranteed) with Carolina.

Latest On Le’Veon Bell, Dolphins

Although the Chiefs profile as a team that would give Le’Veon Bell a better chance to compete for a Super Bowl championship, he trains in Miami during the offseason. And the Dolphins are not bowing out of this pursuit.

The Dolphins are believed to have offered Bell a two-year deal, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald tweets, noting that the team appears to be offering notable money as well. The Dolphins are indeed willing to dole out a “fair amount” of cash for the former All-Pro running back, Michael Giardi of NFL.com tweets.

The Dolphins hold more than $15MM in cap space; the Chiefs sit at $6MM-plus. The Chiefs believed they were on track to land Bell by Wednesday night; the Dolphins’ offer may well be holding up a Bell-to-Missouri pledge. Sean McDermott confirmed the Bills were looking into Bell, but nothing has emerged on this front over the past few hours.

Were Bell to sign with either team, he would have a chance to face the Jets. The Chiefs play the Jets in Week 8. While COVID-19 protocols would not allow Bell to join the Dolphins in a game this week, when they host the Jets, the AFC East teams’ second 2020 meeting comes in November. The Bills’ rematch with the Jets comes in Week 7.

Miami has used 2019 seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin as its primary running back as of late, doing so despite signing Jordan Howard and trading for Matt Breida this spring. Breida is a 2021 free agent, while Howard can be released free of dead-money charges next year.

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Latest On Le’Veon Bell

The Chiefs are one of three teams leading the Le’Veon Bell chase. Last night, they thought they had it wrapped up. Sources tell NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter) that the Chiefs believed that Bell would sign with them after they spoke with his camp on Wednesday. 

That’s not to say that the Chiefs are out of the mix. In fact, they’re still very much in it, along with the Bills and Dolphins. There’s just more work to be done, if they want Bell to join Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, and Darwin Thompson on their RB depth chart.

The Chiefs, who started off 4-0 before falling to the Raiders, rank eleventh in yards per carry average. Edwards-Helaire leads the pack with 344 yards and an average of 4.2 yards per tote. Beyond the rookie, however, they could use some veteran support. Kansas City made a somewhat similar move last year, signing LeSean McCoy after the Bills cut him. While McCoy played decently in spurts last season, the Chiefs made him a healthy scratch in Super Bowl LIV. Bell, however, is four years younger than McCoy and has logged more than 1,000 fewer touches.

Bell gained nearly 2,000 total yards in 2017, a year in which he was franchise-tagged by the Steelers. Then came the holdout, followed by his forgettable stretch with the Jets. The Chiefs could give Bell a prime opportunity to get back to his old form and capture another Super Bowl ring.

Now 28, Bell has not shown top form since than ’17 season. In a 2019 slate in which he averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry, Bell lacked the spark he displayed with the Steelers. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 of this year, leading to a three-week stay on IR. However, Bell did average 4.6 yards per tote against the Cardinals on Sunday. This led to a last-ditch Jets push to trade him. But that effort did not last long. They cut him Tuesday.

The Bills and Dolphins are also believed to be in on Bell. Buffalo has relied on second-year back Devin Singletary this season, with rookie Zach Moss battling an injury. Bell would certainly supply the Bills with experience and a pass-catching pedigree their backfield lacks. The Dolphins would not profile as the kind of contender Bell reportedly seeks, but the veteran back trains in Miami during the offseason and has a home in south Florida.

Regardless of which team signs Bell, he would need to go through the enhanced coronavirus protocols with his new team. The earliest he could possibly play again would be Week 7, and that would depend on how quickly he signed.

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Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins In On Le’Veon Bell 

Le’Veon Bell is down to three teams, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The former Jets running back is deciding between the Bills, Chiefs, and Dolphins, and a deal could come together by the end of business on Thursday. Meanwhile, despite some speculation regarding the 49ers, head coach Kyle Shanahan says he’s not interested (via Cam Inman of the Mercury News). 

The Chiefs – who made a similar move by signing veteran LeSean McCoy last year – were quickly connected to the former All-Pro back. He’d make sense for the Chiefs, who are without Damien Williams due to his opt-out. Currently, KC features Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, and Darwin Thompson on the RB depth chart. Bell reportedly wants to play for a winner after escaping New York, so the Chiefs would be a logical fit for him.

The Dolphins would provide Bell with an instant opportunity for revenge against Adam Gase, as they face the Jets on Sunday. The Bills and Chiefs play the Jets on Week 7 and Week 8, respectively, so he’d get to face his former club with any of these three teams. Bell would support Myles Gaskin as the lead rusher in Miami and support Devin Singletary in Buffalo.

Bell underperformed in 2019 and reportedly clashed with team brass. He averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and his 66 catches for 461 yards out of the backfield weren’t nearly enough to offset that lack of efficiency. This year, he suited up in just two games before his divorce with the Jets. Before all of that, and his infamous Steelers holdout, Bell notched 1,291 yards off of a league-high 321 carries in 2017. He also reeled in a career-high 85 catches for 655 yards and scored eleven all-purpose touchdowns.

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AFC West Notes: Bell, Broncos, Nassib, Bolts

Less than an hour after Le’Veon Bell‘s Jets departure became official, rumors about his new team are surfacing. While Bell’s suitor list is not yet known, many around the league expect the Chiefs to be interested in the former All-Pro back, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Chiefs made a somewhat similar move last year, signing LeSean McCoy — after the Bills cut him — to play behind then-starter Damien Williams. Kansas City used a first-round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire but has lower-profile backs Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson — after Damien Williams’ July opt-out — backing up the rookie. Bell, whose disappointing Jets stay secured him nearly $30MM, will prioritize his fit in an offense and a team’s chances of contending before choosing his next destination, per Fowler. Bell returned in Week 5 from a hamstring injury and averaged 4.62 yards per carry on 13 totes in the Jets’ loss to the Cardinals.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • While Cam Newton‘s return to the Patriots’ active roster points to the Broncos facing him and not Jarrett Stidham this week, Drew Lock also appears on the verge of a return. The Denver starter participated fully in practice Wednesday. A Week 6 return would be in the timeframe initially set after Lock’s Week 2 shoulder injury. The Broncos used two different starters, running their post-Peyton Manning total to nine, in Lock’s absence. Were Lock to be held out another week, Brett Rypien would be in line to log a second start.
  • Mark Barron‘s Broncos debut remains on hold. On IR because of a hamstring injury, Barron suffered a pectoral malady that will delay his return to action, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. The Broncos signed Barron late in the summer, but the former first-round pick does not have a clear-cut return date.
  • The Raiders are also going to be without a rotational defender for a bit. Carl Nassib suffered a broken toe during the team’s win over the Chiefs, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). It is, in fact, a big toe injury. The former Browns and Buccaneers pass rusher will likely be out a while, though a concrete timetable does not exist yet. An offseason addition, Nassib has played just more than a fourth of Las Vegas’ defensive snaps this season.
  • The Dolphins recently promoted running back Salvon Ahmed to their active roster. They did so after the Chargers expressed interest in poaching Ahmed off Miami’s practice squad, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. The Chargers are down Austin Ekeler presently and have just two backs — Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley — on their active roster. A rookie UDFA out of Washington, Ahmed has yet to dress for an NFL game.

Jets To Activate Le’Veon Bell From IR

SATURDAY: The Jets will have their starting running back available against the Cardinals. They will move Bell from IR to their active roster Saturday, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes.

WEDNESDAY: Le’Veon Bell has spent the required amount of time on IR to return to action, in this unique season, and the Jets have designated their starting running back to return.

While Bell is not yet on Gang Green’s 53-man roster, the team has three weeks from Wednesday to activate Bell. However, Bell returning to practice points to him being back on the Jets’ active roster by Sunday. He has not played since suffering a left hamstring pull in Week 1.

This will mark the latest chapter for Bell and the Jets — a partnership that has thus far not gone well. Bell and Adam Gase disagreed on the former All-Pro’s hamstring situation during training camp. This, of course, was on the heels of Bell’s worst season as a pro and reports of Gase not wanting Bell — at least, not at the $13.1MM-per-year price tag required — in the first place.

Gase now looms as a chopping-block candidate, while Bell is a near-certainty to be off the Jets’ roster before the start of the 2021 league year — at the latest. But the 28-year-old back is back at Jets practice and on track to return to game action. The Jets have primarily used Frank Gore in Bell’s stead. The 37-year-old back, however, has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

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Jets Place Le’Veon Bell On IR

Le’Veon Bell is set to miss the rest of the Jets’ September slate, at least. The Jets are placing the former All-Pro running back on IR, Kim Jones of NFL.com tweets.

Bell will be out until at least Week 5, with teams having the option this year to activate players from IR after three weeks off the roster. Prior to the IR move, Adam Gase said Bell will be out a couple of weeks with his hamstring injury.

Gase and Bell disagreed over an issue with the running back’s hamstring during training camp, which represented the latest bout of turbulence in the sides’ relationship. The Jets will now turn to Frank Gore against the 49ers. They were down fourth-round rookie La’Mical Perine in Week 1. Perine missed Gang Green’s opener because of an ankle injury.

The Jets signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5MM deal in 2019. Like many of the big-ticket contracts former GM Mike Maccagnan authorized during his four-plus-year tenure, it has not worked out. Bell, whom Gase was reported to have not wanted at that price tag, slogged through a career-worst season in 2019. Should the Jets not be able to find a trade partner, they will almost certainly cut Bell in 2021.

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AFC East Notes: Gilmore, Bell, Callaway

Patriots star CB Stephon Gilmore is set to earn $10.5MM this year, which is quite a bargain when considering that the top of the CB market now features average annual values in the $17MM range. But it does not appear that Gilmore is pushing for a new deal at this time, and though he missed five practices in a row last month, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says the absence was not contract-related.

Now for a few more AFC East items:

  • For months, Jarrett Stidham looked like he would be the Patriots‘ starting QB and would serve as the heir apparent to Tom Brady. But now, Reiss says Stidham might actually be the third-stringer behind Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer, and his inability to generate any momentum in training camp has cast his long-term future in doubt.
  • In the same piece linked above, Reiss says that Jermaine Eluemunor has definitively seized the Patriots’ RT job.
  • Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, Jets RB Le’Veon Bell says he has no issues with head coach Adam Gase. In his first comments since his publicly questioning Gase’s decision to pull him out of a recent scrimmage, Bell said, “I don’t understand why everybody is trying to put me and Gase against each other. We’re not against each other. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to believe, but we actually like each other” (via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com). Though Bell may not make it past this year’s trading deadline with Gang Green, it is in his and Gase’s best interests to limit the drama and focus on getting Bell back to his old form.
  • Former Browns receiver Antonio Callaway recently tried out for the Dolphins, as Albert Breer of SI.com notes (via Twitter). Callaway, a 2018 fourth-round pick, has plenty of promise but has had a very rocky start to his pro career, including two separate suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He hooked on with the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers in January but suffered a leg injury shortly after signing, and this is the first time we have heard his name in NFL circles since then.
  • The Dolphins just waived QB Josh Rosen, and as Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald tweets, the team could now reunite with Jake Rudock, who spent last season on the Miami practice squad.