Le’Veon Bell is done with the New York Jets after less than two full seasons in the Big Apple. A colossal free agent bust who was neither productive nor well-utilized in his first gig outside of Pittsburgh, the former All-Pro will assuredly have some suitors now that he’s on the open market, with teams like the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams potentially interested in more of a multi-down running back. But what if Bell’s most logical next home is right where his NFL career started, in Pennsylvania?
We’re not talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’re talking about the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sound crazy? One look at general manager Howie Roseman’s track record would indicate the Eagles are far less likely than the Bears or the Rams or even the Steelers to invest big money into the RB spot. But is anyone about to pay Bell big money after these last three years, which have seen Bell a.) sit out an entire season and b.) waste away in Adam Gase’s “offense?”
Let’s not forget the Eagles were also the “team that made the most calls” about Bell’s availability ahead of the trade deadline back in 2018, when the ex-Pro Bowler was still with the Steelers. That’s according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora, who cited people close to Roseman in reporting Philly had been sniffing around Bell even before then-starter Jay Ajayi went down with an injury. (Bell, for what it’s worth, also openly flirted with the idea of playing for the Eagles before signing in New York.)
In 2020, there’s a case to be made that a team-up between the two sides makes even more sense. The Eagles have been very clear that second-year back Miles Sanders is their RB1, and Sanders at 23 has all kinds of untapped potential. But the Eagles have also been open about wanting a veteran complement to Sanders this year, admittedly missing out on Carlos Hyde, repeatedly courting Devonta Freeman and then settling for an underwhelming and underused duo of Boston Scott and Corey Clement.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, meanwhile, could use any weapons he can get, whether they line up behind him or out wide. Roseman has infamously swung and miss on netting No. 11 top- or even mid-level receiving options outside of tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert (who are under-performing and/or hurt right now). So why not explore the next-best thing: A running back who’s best used as a pass catcher? Bell, remember, shined as a receiving outlet in Pittsburgh, logging three seasons of at least 75 catches.
Would the Eagles be better off with a speed demon out wide? Duh. Is Bell worth any more than an incentive-laden deal at this point in his career? Absolutely not. But if Wentz truly is re-entering a late-2019-esque resurgence, where he’s forced to do so much of the offensive heavy-lifting alongside backups and practice-squad call-ups, the upside of a low-risk deal for Bell seems tantalizing. The Eagles, lest you forget, are well within reach of first place in the NFC East, and while they’re probably better off eyeing 2021 and beyond rather than instant upgrades for an aging and injured roster, it’s not like they’d be giving up any draft picks for Bell.
The match would arguably be just as enticing for Bell, who’s probably ready to get as far away from a Jets-level cellar-dweller as possible. He made his money. Now it’s time to get serious about his career. Short of a return to the Steelers, there isn’t a more natural home than Philly, which is literally down the road from Jets facilities and boasts a much more reliable organization and playoff resume. His opportunity wouldn’t necessarily be nearly as sizable as, say, what he’d find in Buffalo or Chicago, but all of those teams have established starters or role players, too.
With the Eagles, Bell would theoretically split reps with Sanders, spelling Philly’s youngster for the stretch run, all while freshening up his own body for an inevitable return to free agency in 2021. Who loses? Worst-case scenario, he isn’t a great fit but gets to start fresh after less wear and tear, whereas the Eagles waste a small fraction of their nearly $16 million in 2020 cap space to at least attempt an injection of versatility into an offense that’s struggled to replicate its explosiveness of old.