Monday, January 30, 2023

NFL Free Agency: Will RB Le’Veon Bell play in the 2021 season?

Le’Veon Bell has almost dropped off the NFL’s radar since his hold-out season and an ill-fated two-year stint with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs – but will we see him return in 2021?

Few rushers have had a better four-year spell than Le’Veon Bell did between 2014 and 2017. The second-round pick out of Michigan State was a force of nature, making three Pro Bowls and being named a First-Team All-Pro twice during an era in which he redefined the position.

Le’Veon Bell’s fall shows how quickly the NFL chews up and spits out players at the running back position, and is effectively the reason why the Pittsburgh Steelers did not want to give him the superstar money he demanded ahead of the 2018 season, one he ended up watching from the sidelines.

After recording three seasons of rushing for more than 1,250 yards in four years (in 2015, he was reduced to six starts through injury but was on pace to match his own high standards), Bell wanted to be rewarded for his heroics. That led to a year out and a 789-yard season in New York in 2019 where he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.

He was cut by the Jets after two games in 2020, and later ended up on the Kansas City Chief’s AFC championship-winning squad. But, Le’Veon Bell started only two of nine games and did not suit up in the Super Bowl.

Is any team willing to take a chance on Le’Veon Bell?

Building a reputation for patient, measured running, Le’Veon Bell would almost freeze in time behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ stout offensive line, waiting for the play to develop, lightly jogging across the width of the field before bursting into a gap with precision and power.

He averaged 4.7, 4.9, 4.9 and 4.0 yards per carry from 2014 to 2017. How much of that production still remains in the 29-year-old’s locker is an unknown, but from 63 carries in a Chiefs uniform last season, Bell rushed for 254 yards and two touchdowns at 4.0 yards per carry.

After a season of limited usage in 2020, there’s every chance Le’Veon Bell’s body is in decent shape and his age means the physical attributes that helped him dominate the NFL should still be somewhat intact. That said, any team taking a chance on Bell in 2021 will need to factor in his personality.

Le’Veon Bell called out former head coach Adam Gase and the Jets’ offensive play-calling on social media, which is not always the kind of character trait that encourages general managers and head coaches to put their reputation on the line and invest large amounts of their franchise owner’s money.

However, many players who struggled in Gase’s offensive scheme have since gone on to find success, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receivers Robby Anderson and DeVante Parker. Bell admitted to being frustrated in New York and perhaps the situation owes a lot to his struggles.

In recent years, Le’Veon Bell has not showcased the same explosive steps and cutting ability he became known for in Pittsburgh, but that does not mean he cannot be a key contributor in a running back room. Reports have linked him with the Steelers’ AFC rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in recent times.

It seems Le’Veon Bell will pad up again in 2021, but it is likely he will need to accept a smaller contract than he is used to, and embrace a role as a complimentary part of an NFL backfield – at least until he can prove how much is left in the tank.


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