Le'Veon Bell

AFC Notes: Bell, Jets, Ravens, Harbaugh, Browns, Wylie

Although Le’Veon Bell‘s decision to sit out the 2018 season has caused people in the league to question “his character, competitiveness and motivation”, the Jets must go hard after Bell in free agency, opines Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Mehta writes that the Jets have a “golden opportunity” to get Sam Darnold another weapon, and quotes several of Bell’s former teammates who swear by him.

Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who played with Bell in Pittsburgh, told Mehta “when he steps foot in this building, you’re going to get 100 percent from the guy” and that he would “bring the best out of so many people.” Mehta writes that the team “would be foolish not to make an aggressive run at Bell”, and he would fit right in with the New York media market. Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has said repeatedly that he plans to be aggressive using New York’s salary cap space this offseason, so Bell being a Jet is a very real possibility.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Despite the team’s surprise announcement yesterday that John Harbaugh would return to coach the Ravens in 2019 and that the team hoped to work out an extension with him, the two sides haven’t had any talks on an extension yet, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. La Canfora seems to think that an extension is still far from a guarantee, and writes that “numerous significant matters would have to be resolved” before any deal could get done. It will be an interesting situation to monitor, especially if the Ravens end up missing the playoffs.
  • After breaking his ankle in practice, Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie had successful surgery and is recovering well the team announced, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter link). Wylie, who became a fan favorite due to his starring turn on this year’s season of HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’, is “questionable at best” for this weekend’s game, according to the team’s announcement.
  • The Texans will be without to key offensive playmakers for their pivotal game against the Eagles tomorrow, as the team ruled out running back Lamar Miller and receiver Keke Coutee for the game, according to James Palmer of NFL Network (Twitter link). Coutee has been out for a few weeks now, but this will be Houston’s first game without Miller in the backfield. It’ll likely be a lot of Alfred Blue against a tough Philadelphia defensive front.

Le’Veon Bell Targeting Colts

The Jets are believed to be targeting Le’Veon Bell this offseason, but he has his eyes on the Colts, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY hears. It’s a situation that is all too familiar for the Jets who tried, and failed, to land the most coveted free agent in offseason’s class. 

The source, who has spoken to Bell, said the running back hasn’t ruled out the Jets or any other team, but the Colts are at “the top of his list” because of Andrew Luck and the team’s cap room that could exceed $120MM.

He has his eyes on the Colts, no doubt about that,” the source said. “He sees Luck and that offense and all that cap room and they’re much closer than the Jets. He wants to go someplace he can win right away.”

Last year, the Jets went hard after Kirk Cousins, despite rumblings that they were just being used for leverage against better football teams. Ultimately, that may have been the case – the Jets offered a three-year, $90MM deal to the QB, but he took $6MM less to sign with the Vikings. Whether they would have been better off with Cousins is another matter, but it’s clear that the Jets have issues when it comes to landing top free agents.

Meanwhile, the Colts’ level of interest in Bell is not immediately clear. They’d surely like to have him, but There’s no guarantee that they’ll offer him the historic contract he seeks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Bengals, Dalton, Browns

Andy Dalton‘s injury could force the Bengals to look to the future, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com writes. Jeff Driskel has the reins now in Cincinnati and his performance could lead the Bengals to reconsider Dalton as their future starter or, at least, reconsider their backup QB situation.

Dalton has two years remaining on a six-year, $96MM contract extension he signed in 2014, but the Bengals can move on next year without any fiscal penalty. There are no roster bonuses remaining on the deal either, so the Bengals could theoretically part ways with Dalton at any point in the spring or summer.

Terrell expects Dalton to stay put, unless there’s an overhaul of the coaching staff or Driskel knocks it out of the park over the next five games. Given the Bengals’ history with Marvin Lewis, a Driskel-powered winning streak may be the only thing to threaten the Red Rifle in Cincinnati.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Bengals, Bell

It could be the dawn of a new era in Baltimore. As expected, 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson will get his first start under center for the Ravens today in place of an ailing Joe Flacco, as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com writes. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Flacco is not expected to need surgery on his hip, so while his status for next week’s contest against the Raiders is up in the air, he could be ready for the stretch run. But if Jackson performs well and can keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive, head coach John Harbaugh — who is facing the end of his tenure in Baltimore — will have a very difficult decision to make. Jackson has reportedly shown considerable improvement in practice this week, and anticipation for his debut is running high.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • It’s not just Flacco and Harbaugh who could be seeing their Ravens careers draw to a close. As Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic writes, today’s game feels like a last stand of sorts for a number of players. If Baltimore loses, it will be all but eliminated from playoff contention, and as the team transitions to a new GM and possibly a new head coach, veterans like Flacco, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Michael Crabtree could all be on their way out.
  • Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Bengals WR A.J. Green, who is inactive today, did at least travel with the team and worked out this morning. That suggests he could be ready to return next week.
  • We learned earlier this week that new Bengals assistant Hue Jackson won’t have a role in the team’s offense, but the defense is a different story. Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network report that Jackson is spending all of his time on the defensive side of the ball, and Garafolo suggests that Jackson could become Cincinnati’s defensive play-caller in a few weeks (Twitter links). Right now, head coach Marvin Lewis is still making the defensive calls, but Jackson has been present for the defensive meetings and is bringing a spark and excitement to that unit.
  • Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says the Steelers made an eleventh hour push to get Le’Veon Bell to rejoin the team before last Tuesday’s deadline. They reportedly outlined the significant role they had in mind for him for the remainder of the season, and they made it clear that they wanted him back. They also made him aware that they intend to use the transition tag on him this offseason, but Bell simply had no interest in playing in 2018.
  • In a separate piece, La Canfora examines the free agent market for Bell. Many GMs and cap experts believe Bell overplayed his hand, as does former NFL agent Joel Corry (Twitter link). But as Corry points out, it only takes one team to give Bell the money he wants and to make him and his agent look quite savvy, and Rapoport indicates that the market for Bell’s services could be more vibrant than many expect (video link). Rapoport says Bell is looking for a front-loaded five-year, $85MM pact, and he suggests that may not be a huge stretch given the number of cash-flush teams that could be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Browns are interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their head coaching job at the end of the season, though GM John Dorsey has released a statement quelling that rumor.

Jets Notes: Johnson, Bell, Maccagnan, Bates

The Jets signed Trumaine Johnson to a five-year, $72 million contract this past offseason, and they were surely hoping that the veteran cornerback would provide some stability to their secondary for the foreseeable future. Well, through his first five games with New York, it looks like the team’s assessment may have been a bit off.

Of course, this fact isn’t lost on the organization. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweets that Johnson has been “profoundly disappointing to people inside the organization.” One source told the reporter that they “[t]hought he’d be better.” Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com writes that “many league observers” have believed that Darryl Roberts (who’s playing on a minimum salary) has been more productive than his richer teammate.

In five games this season, Johnson has compiled 16 tackles, two passes defended, one forced fumble, and one interception, and the defense has look significantly better when the veteran was out of the lineup.

Let’s check out some more notes out of New York…

  • Responding to a reader’s mail, Mehta writes that the Jets have to pursue Le’Veon Bell this offseason, or else the “rebuilding talk has been nothing but lip service.” The running back is undoubtedly the most talented impending offensive free agent, and the team is sitting with more than $90MM in cap space. Most importantly, the front office should be focused on providing Sam Darnold with as many reliable options as possible, and they have a three-year window to do some spending before they have to ink the franchise quarterback to a lucrative extension.
  • With Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan‘s tenure with the organization potentially coming to an end, Darryl Slater of NJ.com graded each of the executive’s notable transactions during his four-year stint. Some of his best moves included the acquisitions of quarterbacks Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, and Darnold, while the signings of Darrelle Revis, Terrelle Pryor, and Johnson each earned “F” for a grade.
  • Matt Stypulkoski of NJ.com takes a look at some offensive coordinator candidates if the Jets ultimately fire Jeremy Bates. The writer ends up pointing to a long list of quarterback coaches, including Zac Taylor (Rams), Press Taylor (Eagles), Mike Kafka (Chiefs), Dave Ragone (Bears), Kevin Stefanski (Vikings), Greg Knapp (Falcons), and Joe Lombardi (Saints). Other notable names on Stypulkoski’s list include former Browns head coach Hue Jackson and former Jets offensive coordinator John Morton.

Le’Veon Bell Fallout: Steelers, Conner, Jets

In becoming the first franchise-tagged player since the Chiefs’ Dan Williams in 1998 to commit to skipping an entire season, Le’Veon Bell ensured himself to be a key name in NFL business history henceforth. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert confirmed Bell did not sign his franchise tender on Tuesday and will not play in 2018. He’s likely bound for the 2019 market. Here’s the latest from the Bell front:

  • Pittsburgh’s plan will still be a transition tag, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. This will be for Bell’s would-have-been 2018 franchise tag amount ($14.5MM), though it’s not like the Steelers will be prepared to match a big offer. They have James Conner in the fold for at least two more seasons on a third-round deal and have obviously been through quite the ordeal with his predecessor. The Steelers also won’t match an offer because of a preference to avoid other teams structuring their contracts, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly notes (subscription required). A trade could commence, but with no draft compensation attached to the transition tag, Pittsburgh wouldn’t have much leverage here.
  • While Conner delivering the same level of production Bell did in 2017 may not look great for Bell’s status as a difference-making running back, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk not only expects the soon-to-be 27-year-old running back to match Todd Gurley‘s market-shattering contract (four years, $57.5MM, $45MM guaranteed) but expects Bell to land a better deal in 2019 (Twitter link). With the cap rising by approximately $10MM annually, this could happen. It’s a major risk, though, especially given Bell’s injury and suspension history (18 missed games, counting the playoffs, due to injury). Gurley had 914 career regular-season touches prior to signing his extension; David Johnson ($13MM AAV) had just 405. Although Bell will preserve his body for a hopeful megadeal, he has 1,541 career touches — the most of any active back through an age-25 season. While it’s likely Bell will command a lucrative pact, it’s not a lock he ventures into Gurley territory.
  • As for who will pay Bell, the Colts and Jets stand to possess more than $100MM in cap space in 2019. The Bills and Raiders will also have plenty of money to spend, though both teams have needs at several positions. Kaboly pinpoints the Jets, who don’t have much in the way of long-term solutions beyond Sam Darnold, on offense. While the Jets also have needs at just about every position on offense, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News writes they should sign Bell — even if it forces an overpay — citing Darnold’s rookie contract as a window for bigger free agent moves. This may be the team that would make Bell’s plan worthwhile. They gave out lavish deals to Darrelle Revis and Trumaine Johnson, and now Mike Maccagnan may be entering a win-or-else offseason. The Colts have not spent wildly in free agency in Chris Ballard‘s first two seasons, however.
  • Conner remains in concussion protocol, and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes neither Jaylen Samuels nor Stevan Ridley have shown to be on his level. Citing past Steelers running backs’ absences in playoff games — including Bell, who either missed or failed to finish four postseason contests over a three-season span — Bouchette notes Conner’s health now becomes even more important if the team is to finally break through after several January letdowns this decade.

Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell Will Not Play This Year

The Le’Veon Bell saga – or, at least, this part of it – is over. The running back will not report to the Steelers or sign his franchise tender before the Tuesday afternoon deadline, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. This renders him ineligible to play in 2018. 

The Steelers tagged Bell for the second straight time, but he refused to play on a one-year, $14.5MM contract. There was previously confusion about the ramifications of a year-long holdout, but Bell’s camp recently confirmed that he cannot be tagged again at the same rate. A third franchise tag would cost the Steelers roughly $25MM, which assures that he’ll reach unrestricted free agency unless the team throws him a curveball and uses the transition tag.

Bell has sacrificed roughly $8MM in salary up until this point and he’ll forfeit another ~$6MM in earnings by stretching his holdout through the end of the season. He’ll also miss out on a possible Super Bowl run. Despite a rocky start, the Steelers lead the AFC North and appear well on their way to another playoff berth.

Bell’s stance has been the source of controversy this year, but, from a financial perspective, it’s hard to argue with his approach. If Bell suffered a serious injury this year, he would have jeopardized a massive payday in free agency. It’s likely that he’ll be dinged for his high usage in recent years and Bell did not want to take another hit as he seeks to break the mold for running backs.

Some GMs may shy away from Bell for a perceived lack of commitment to the game, but he still figures to command a record-breaking contract in the spring. The Jets, for example, are projected to have upwards of $100MM in cap room and figure to make a strong push for Bell, who will have just turned 27 in March.

Bell’s free agency will be a fascinating case to watch. It’s not often that truly elite players reach unrestricted free agency and Bell will arguably be one of the best to ever hit the open market.

Fortunately for the Steelers, they have found a very capable replacement in Bell’s former understudy. James Conner, 23, has 771 yards off of 164 carries in nine games this year, giving him a stellar average of 4.7 yards per tote. He also has ten rushing touchdowns and a 39/387/1 stat line as a receiver.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Don’t Expect Le’Veon Bell To Report

Tuesday marks the deadline for Le’Veon Bell to report, but the Steelers aren’t expecting him to show up, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Of course, if the running back does not come to the Steelers and sign his franchise tender, he will not be able to play in 2018. 

Bell is determined to preserve his body before free agency, so, from a business perspective, it would make little sense for him to suit up now. He’ll forfeit his remaining $6MM in salary if he does not play this season, but that’s relative chump change compared to the riches that await him on the open market. Already, Bell has sacrificed approximately $8MM in game checks this season.

Bell’s camp has limited its contact with the Steelers this year, so the possibility remains that the running back plans to show. The Steelers aren’t planning on having Bell for the final stretch of the year, but they won’t know for sure unless the 4pm ET/3pm CT deadline passes and the contract is not signed.

The Steelers lead the AFC North with a 6-2-1 record and they’ve hardly missed a beat on offense thanks to the emergence of James Conner. Conner’s concussion is not expected to keep him off of the field this Sunday against the Jaguars, so the Steelers are far from desperate for a Bell reunion.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Expected To Use Transition Tag On Le’Veon Bell

Even though nothing is ever certain when it comes to Le’Veon Bell, it does not appear that Bell will report to the Steelers by the November 13 deadline, which means that he will be ineligible to play at all in 2018 (although he would still be eligible for the third-year franchise tag amount of $25MM+). Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network acknowledges that, when Bell’s camp learned that his franchise tag price would be unaffected even if he stayed away from the team for the entire year, that seemed to tip the scales in favor of a year-long holdout (video link).

Of course, the Steelers are not going to put the franchise tag on Bell, which means, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, that the team is likely to hit him with the transition tag. That designation would allow Pittsburgh to match any offer sheet that Bell signs with a different club, but the Steelers would not receive any draft compensation in return if they elected to not match (and they almost assuredly will not match).

So even though it is mostly a moot point, the league is preparing for how the transition tag process will unfold. As La Canfora writes, the transition tag value could fall anywhere between $9.5MM and $14.5MM, and once the tag is put on, a hearing would be scheduled for an arbitrator to decide on precisely what the amount of the tag should be.

La Canfora suggests that a team could front-load an offer to Bell or guarantee him money beyond the first two years of a contract in order to entice him to sign, but he also suggests that the demand for Bell’s services could be quite tepid. Bell’s holdout and his injury/suspension history will surely give his potential suitors some pause, as will the fact that he will be another year older in 2019. While he is certainly preserving his body by not playing in 2018, Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network tweets that there are a number of “football folks” who believe that age is age and whether Bell plays this year or not will have no impact on his performance moving forward. It would certainly be interesting if the Steelers end up applying the transition tag and Bell does not get the type of interest he is clearly anticipating on the open market, because then he may have no other choice but to sign the tag and return to Pittsburgh in 2019.

More important to the Steelers at the moment is the health of James Conner, who has excelled in Bell’s absence. Conner remains in the concussion protocol, but Rapoport says the Steelers are optimistic that the second-year back will not miss any time. They would, however, love to have Bell back, as Albert Breer of TheMMQB writes. They believe he truly can be deadly on fresh legs and would enhance an already excellent offense. As Bell has still not said anything definitive to the team one way or another, Pittsburgh is hoping to see him walk through the door prior to the deadline.

Assuming Bell does not appear, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com writes that, in addition to the $14.5MM he would have received this year if he had signed his franchise tag, he will also miss out on another $200K in pension, annuity, 401K, and health reimbursement benefits, plus however that money would compound over time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Le’Veon Bell Unlikely To Report To Steelers, Will Miss 2018 Season

Le’Veon Bell is unlikely to report to the Steelers before Tuesday’s deadline and as a result will not play in 2018, sources told Adam Schefter of ESPN. Schefter writes that “even as the Steelers now brace to lose their marquee running back for the entire year, Bell’s camp continues to maintain its cone of silence” and has not informed the Steelers one way or another what his intentions are.

That being said, Schefter writes “there are no indications that Bell will report by the deadline”, and that “the belief” is that Bell’s Steelers career is “unofficially over.” With this news, it sounds like the saga surrounding Bell is over and the football world finally has its answer. The question of when Bell would show up became the biggest story in the NFL in 2018, and has dominated headlines all season long.

Confirmation of Schefter’s report came soon after from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who tweeted “the team is not expecting their star RB to play for them this season” and that “the belief is Bell will stay away & await free agency.” Many assumed Bell would end his holdout and return to the team once the season started, but with each passing week it became more and more clear how serious Bell was about not playing under the franchise tag.

In Bell’s absence, Steelers running back James Conner has emerged and developed into one of the league’s top backs. With it safe to assume the Steelers won’t pursue Bell in free agency, the question now becomes where Bell will land in 2019. Teams like the Buccaneers and Jets have been frequently brought up in discussions, and should be considered two of the likeliest possible destinations. Bell will likely be seeking a deal greater than the one Todd Gurley got from the Rams, which gave him roughly $60MM over four years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.