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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Two years ago, running back Le’Veon Bell decided he’d rather sit out the season than play on the franchise tag. The move landed him his coveted big-money deal in free agency, but less than two years after signing with the New York Jets, he is again out of work.
“The Jets organization appreciates Le’Veon’s efforts during his time here and we know he worked hard to make significant contributions to this team,” general manager Joe Douglas said in a statement after the team released the running back Tuesday. “We believe this decision is in the best interests of both parties and wish him future success.
Bell has appeared in just two games this season due to injury and recently took a passive-aggressive approach to publicly criticizing his role. This combination of his unavailability and disgruntled attitude was likely too much for New York to tolerate.
However, now that Bell is readily available, it’s unlikely that 31 other teams will be scared away. While he wasn’t an elite back last season, he still topped 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards and caught 66 passes.
Here, we’ll look at the best potential fits for Bell based on factors like roster makeup, scheme fit, coaching and cap space.
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Bears RB Tarik CohenDanny Karnik/Associated Press
The Jets were never going to offer Bell a shot at the postseason in 2020. The Chicago Bears might.
At 4-1, the Bears are one step behind the 4-0 Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. They could also use reinforcements in the backfield.
Bears receiving back Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL during Week 3. Starter David Montgomery has helped pick up some of the receiving workload, but Chicago is missing a dedicated pass-catching back.
Bell would be a tremendous candidate to fill Cohen’s role. As previously mentioned, he caught 66 passes last season. He’s also caught at least 45 passes during every season in which he has played 10 or more games.
With Bell bolstering the backfield, the Bears could be better equipped to battle the Packers at the top of their division.
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Dolphins RB Myles GaskinJed Jacobsohn/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins have gotten decent production out of second-year back Myles Gaskin, but offseason acquisitions Matt Breida and Jordan Howard have been big disappointments.
Howard has been especially underwhelming. After he signed a two-year, $9.75 million deal in free agency, he has provided three rushing touchdowns but just 14 yards on 18 carries. He wasn’t even active for the Week-5 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s hard to think Bell wouldn’t improve Miami’s backfield.
The Dolphins would provide a shot at a little revenge on New York and a role on a team further along in the rebuilding process. The fact that Bell’s contract wouldn’t be subject to state income tax in Florida isn’t going to hurt any potential Dolphins pitch, either.
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Le’Veon BellKeith Srakocic/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers might be a bit of a long shot for Bell as they seem to have a quality duo in James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. Each back is averaging more than 4.0 yards per carry, while the Steelers as a whole rank eighth in rushing.
However, Bell’s receiving ability could be a big asset to the Steelers. Pittsburgh ranks 19th in passing yards per game and 21st in yards per pass, and Conner and Snell have combined for just 12 receptions. While Bell and the Steelers didn’t part on the best of terms following his holdout, Pittsburgh was reportedly interested in acquiring him last year.
“I found out through my agent he had talked to the Jets and there were teams like Houston, the Packers, the Kansas City Chiefs and, surprisingly, the Steelers were all in the mix in trying to trade for me,” Bell told UNINTERRUPTED and Sirius XM’s 17 Weeks Podcast (h/t NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman).
If the Steelers do entertain the idea of bringing back Bell, the next question would be whether he’d want to return.
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Cardinals QB Kyler MurrayAdam Hunger/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals might be the best match for Bell based on a couple of factors.
For one, Kenyan Drake has been a bit of a disappointment while playing on the franchise tag this season. He’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and fewer than two catches per game.
The Cardinals also happen to employ James Saxon as their running backs coach. Before joining Arizona last year, Saxon spent the previous five seasons in the same role with the Steelers. Bell played under him every year he spent in Pittsburgh but his rookie season.
Saxon might be able to help Bell get back to his Pro Bowl form.
Moreover, Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive head coach, and Kyler Murray is one of the more dynamic young quarterbacks in the league. If Bell is eager to re-establish himself as a premier running back, Arizona might be the place to do it.
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Patriots head coach Bill BelichickCharlie Riedel/Associated Press
You just knew that the New England Patriots would end up on this list, didn’t you? Head coach Bill Belichick is willing to accept other teams’ cast-offs like they’re free cupcakes, and it might be a bigger surprise if he doesn’t at least kick the tires on Bell.
Do the Patriots already have a crowded backfield? Sure, but they recently placed Sony Michel on injured reserve and never seem concerned with the prospect of having too many running backs.
“It’s good to have depth,” Belichick said, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
New England also loves versatility, and Bell has proved to be a versatile runner and receiver. While Bell and Cam Newton being in the same backfield isn’t as frightening as it might have been three years ago, it could still go a long way toward helping New England reach the postseason.
Cap and contract information via Spotrac.