One of the NFL’s best running backs just might hit the free agent market next month, but the Seahawks should not open the checkbook for Le’Veon Bell should that happen.
One look at the list of impending NFL free agents this year and it’s easy to start getting covetous when it comes to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Perhaps the best running back in the league, Bell could potentially hit the open market in a month’s time, and if it happens it will likely result in a high-stakes bidding war between numerous teams. Given the Seattle Seahawks’ need to improve a run game that was led in 2017 by quarterback Russell Wilson—an unsustainable situation—it would, at least on paper, make sense to include Seattle among the potential suitors for Bell should it come to that point.
But there are numerous reasons why the Seahawks should look elsewhere for a solution to their run-game problems.
One complication is the Steelers themselves, who by all accounts are trying to figure out a way to retain Bell for at least the 2018 season if not longer. Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Steelers president Art Rooney II made it known last week that coming to terms on Bell’s contract is among the team’s top offseason priorities. Another is extending the current deal of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has a $23.2 million cap hit for the year.
Extending Roethlisberger, which would doubtlessly decrease his cap charge for 2018, along with the recently-announced restructuring of both defensive end Stephon Tuitt and guard David DeCastro (adding over $13 million, every penny much-needed as the Steelers would otherwise be in the red) would free up enough space to either give Bell a deal or to allow Pittsburgh to franchise-tag Bell for a second consecutive year, to the tune of $14.5 million. Shuffle around some of the money owed to receiver Antonio Brown (who has a cap hit of $17.675 million this year) and Pittsburgh can certainly pony up for Bell, who was not only their No. 1 rusher in 2017 but also their No. 3 receiver.
If that barrier does not present itself, however, it would still behoove the Seahawks to steer clear of bringing Bell aboard. Seattle needs a younger back, or cadre of backs, to handle rushing duties—backs whom the Seahawks can acquire in the draft, in middle or even late rounds, for an affordable price. And if a veteran is also in their sights, a back who had 406 combined regular-season touches a year ago and has averaged 308 touches over the course of the previous five years, while also wanting at least $15 million per year (or a $100 million contract, if you’re the New York Jets, apparently) is an impractical solution. The Steelers can pay him that money and not look too foolish because he’s a home-grown talent who has proven so integral to their system and success; for any other team, including Seattle, to do so is to take an extreme risk on an already risky position and player.
With C.J. Prosise still under contract and Mike Davis a still-affordable restricted free agent, Seattle has in-house options. Neither are particularly exciting, to be sure; another veteran, Thomas Rawls, is also a restricted free agent but doesn’t seem a part of the Seahawks’ plans moving forward after a disappointing 2017 with 58 carries netting just 157 yards. Chris Carson, meanwhile, is trying to work back from an ankle injury similar to that of Rawls’ a season previous, putting his potential for high-level contribution in doubt moving forward.
This unappealing scenario makes Bell an even more desirable get for the Seahawks this winter, to be sure. And it certainly does not hurt that Bell’s 655 receiving yards a year ago would make him the No. 3 pass-catcher for Seattle (or even No. 2, should the team and Paul Richardson not come to contract terms). But the Seahawks are, for the most part, not reachers for quick-fixes by way of free agency, preferring to build their roster out via savvy drafting. Any free agent running back they likely end up targeting this year will be of the more affordable, high-upside variety.
Kenneth Arthur has already suggested Chris Ivory; DeMarco Murray, though 30 years old and coming off an MCL tear (that hasn’t required surgery) could also serve as complimentary back granted the Tennessee Titans release him, as ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe predicts. Alfred Morris and Rex Burkhead are other veteran running backs who could be useful to Seattle and far, far less pricey than Bell. Though the Seahawks can quite easily come up with the cash required to pay Bell, they don’t require Bell in particular, but rather a boost to their run game. While Bell could supply it, the cost of doing so is too high given the other options available both in free agency and the draft.
Seattle’s run game needs help, but it doesn’t warrant breaking the bank to do so. Bell isn’t likely to hit the free agent market next month, but should it come to pass the Seahawks would be better off letting someone else foot his bill.