Where Will the Chiefs All Purpose RB Land?
By: Ravi Krishnan (Twitter: @masalaESPN)
One of the most ironic aspects of Super Bowl LV is that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will finally be in a Super Bowl. Two of the biggest superstars in the NFL for the past decade or so, Bell and Brown were widely reckoned (along with their QB Ben Roethlisberger) as the Killer Bs that would propel the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the team of the 2010s. Instead, both had acrimonious exits and ended up in a series of unfortunate circumstances and dumb decisions, before landing in situations leading them to the promised land (almost).
Given their legacy of productivity, it is not a surprise that Bell and Brown are in the Super Bowl. What is ironic is that they will be facing off against, rather than playing with, each other. Neither of them is the alpha-player on his team, nor is either fully healthy. In fact, based on these reasons, there is a scenario wherein one or both might not get to see the field on Sunday. Which, in itself, is a travesty of wasted talent.
Notwithstanding what happens on Sunday, both Bell and Brown will be looking for new teams in the off-season; in today’s piece, I will focus on Le’Veon Bell. While he has been barely mediocre in his stint with the Chiefs this season, his past track record is still impregnable — he had close to 4000 yards in 2016 and 2017, and even his down year with the putrid Jets in Jets netted 1400+ all-purpose yards! He is the true testament of the prototypical modern Running back (RB) as a rusher and pass-catcher, and this augurs well for his potential as a contributor at least for the next 3-5 years. So, based on that, here is my take on three teams that might find it wise to take a flyer on Bell in the off-season.
Incumbent: Myles Gaskin, Matt Breida
In a recent interview, Bell admitted that his choice came down to the Chiefs or the Dolphins after being cut by Jets mid-season. During the off-season, the Dolphins are likely to emerge as an attractive option yet again. At worst, there is the potential of Tua to make significant improvements, multiple first-round picks in the draft, a top-ten Defense that would keep one end going, and a solid coaching regime. In a best-case scenario, the Dolphins might actually win the lottery, a.k.a the DeShaun Watson sweepstakes. The Dolphins offensive game plan hinges a lot on the RB to catch passes, and while Myles Gaskin was impressive in this role in 2020, Bell offers an entirely different dimension of excellence. In my mind, Bell to the Dolphins would be the optimal result for both the player and the team.
Incumbent: Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, Brian Hill
Not as optimal would be a move to the Falcons. A team far removed — in talent and in results — from the conference-winning outfit that reached the Super Bowl a few years back, Atlanta is in desperate win-now mode in 2021. The window for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is closing fast, and while the new coaching regime has issued its ongoing commitment in the veterans, the patience might not run long unless the team turns it around quick. One of its immediate needs is to bolster its backfield. Gone are the days of DeVonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman running amok in the NFC, making the Falcons among the leaders in rushing yards. Their experiments with Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith have failed miserably. And that is where a proven stud like Bell will make a difference. For the Falcons, the RB need not be a difference maker — that is a role reserved for its elite WR duo of Julio and Ridley. However, the RB needs to be able to create space for the WRs, exploit the usually open middle-of-the-field, and take pressure off Ryan on third-downs. So, basically, check, check and check for Lev Bell in regard to his core strengths. A Bell-Falcons marriage would, therefore, not be a surprise. For the player, the stats might not reach his erstwhile peaks; for the team, though, Bell might be a great addition as a valuable contributor.
Incumbent: James Conner, Benny Snell
Last but not the least, why not a return to the Steelers? Irrespective of the unpleasant manner of Bell’s departure, everyone in Pittsburgh would agree that things have just not been the same without #26. James Conner flashed briefly but has been unable to show sustained productivity to be a bell-cow. Benny Snell is a JAG (Just Another Guy), and despite the hype, Anthony McFarland flattered to deceive. The Steelers window might be close to being shut already, but if not, this might be its last chance at relevance. In case Big Ben returns for one last foray, and if the Steelers can retain its impressive WR trio (Claypool, Johnson, JuJu), Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin might be willing to take a swing at signing Bell to take over his role as the mainstay in the backfield. Tomlin is a huge team culture guy, so this decision is likely to be much more about off-field considerations; however, if winning is an immediate charter, signing Bell might not be the worst idea.