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Le’Veon Bell: A Match for the Bills?



Running back is a bigger need for the Bills than one might think. LeSean McCoy’s production numbers certainly dipped last season, and although this may have been due primarily to less than stellar play by the offensive line, Shady’s age may just be catching up to him.

Last Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they would not use their franchise tag on star running back Le’Veon Bell and, to put it mildly, he seemed pretty happy about it on Twitter.

Le'Veon Bell on twitter: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God alright I am free at last

Bell, who sat out this past season after the Steelers placed the tag on him during the prior offseason, is searching for a team willing to pay him the big bucks. With the Bills’ $79.4 million in cap space (4th most in the NFL), might Bell take his talents to Orchard Park? Let’s look at a few factors first.

Too Much Money?

According to SBNation’s Adam Stites, Bell reportedly turned down a five-year, $60 million offer last year that would have paid him around $30 million over the first two years of the contract, along with a guaranteed $12 million his first year. That, my friends, is a lot of money, particularly in the current market.

An equivalent offer from the Bills would comprise 15% of their cap space for this season. While the Bills are well positioned with such a generous amount of cap space this year, most of that money could be directed towards other important positions.

Affected by Long Layoff?

It was reported on Wednesday that the Jets were concerned about Bell’s weight, as people believed he ballooned up to 260 pounds. According to Bell’s trainer Pete Bommarito, the reports are false. However, it is far from clear as to whether Bell is in the same playing condition as he was when he last suited up for the Steelers.

The last game Bell played was the divisional round playoff game against the Jaguars last January, where he piled up 155 yards of total offense, along with two touchdowns. Can he put up those numbers without playing for more than a year?

One notable name from the past to hold out for almost a year was Hall of Famer John Riggins, who was famously quoted for saying “I’m bored, I’m broke, and I’m back” when he returned to NFL action. The following season, he was named Super Bowl XVI MVP.

I’m not suggesting Bell can do what Riggins did, or even the idea of the Bills making the Super Bowl let alone the playoffs, but between his age and reported lack of conditioning, it is within the realm of possibility that he may not be the same player he was after not seeing action for over a year.

What the Bills Already Have

Last season was LeSean McCoy’s worst season statistically, as previously discussed. If he is still considered a franchise running back, his production numbers need to improve. Big time.

Shady was the center of attention when the trade deadline was coming to a close, as it was reported that Beane was close to pulling the trigger to send him back to Philadelphia in exchange for some late draft picks. However, Beane declined the offer and even announced that McCoy was going to be a huge part of the offense this upcoming season.

McCoy’s advancing age might be the biggest thing to worry about, notwithstanding his posts on Instagram saying that he has been working hard this offseason.

Of course, while we can’t base a player’s projected performance on an Instagram post, we can certainly hope for the best. Will this be a bounceback year for Shady? If not, this season may surely be his last with the Bills.

To top it all off, McCoy is still under scrutiny for an incident with his ex-girlfriend last summer. The NFL has yet to penalize him, but league-imposed sanctions may well be in his future.

Along with McCoy as holdovers on the Bills’ roster, there is also Chris Ivory, a solid piece of the lackluster offense who was graded their highest ranked player on the Bills offense by Pro Football Focus. Marcus Murphy was also utilized during last season, but primarily on special teams as a kick returner. The dark horse out of all the running backs is undrafted free agent Kareem Ford out of Texas A&M, who for all we know could turn heads this season.

Other Glaring Needs

While running back is a need for the Bills, however, it is not their biggest weakness. As discussed since week 1 of this past season, Buffalo’s offensive line is the greatest area in need of upgrades. Most linemen available in free agency aren’t the best options, but the big names would generally be upgrades over what the Bills currently have. Names to consider are New England’s Trent Brown, the Los Angeles Rams’ Rodger Saffold, Denver’s Matt Paradis, and Kansas City’s Mitch Moorse/

Another need for the Bills is wide receiver. With the start of what could be promising careers for both Zay Jones and undrafted free agent Robert Foster, a third wide receiver is a need for the Bills.

As of February 15th, the Bills have only one tight end on the roster after Charles Clay was cut. Names like Maxx Williams, Jared Cook, and Tyler Eifert are worthy of consideration.

The Bills’ ample cap space gives Beane and the boys some breathing room, but these other soft spots on the roster may well outweigh the need for a running back.

A Questionable Past

Bell has had a questionable past, with multiple arrests relating to drug and alcohol charges. Along with Detroit Lions running back LeGarrette Blount, Bell was arrested in August, 2014 on marijuana possession and DUI charges, and was suspended for the first two games of 2015. Bell was also suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Along with his sketchy legal past, Bell is no stranger to diva-like behavior. For the past two seasons, Bell has been demanding huge contracts from the Steelers and causing them to empty their wallets in order to keep him happy. This did not sit well with many of his Steeler teammates.

Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster, who could be an option for the Bills in free agency, said this about Bell during his holdout last season: “What do you do? Here’s a guy who doesn’t give a damn, I guess, so we’ll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this.”

Some reporting suggested that Bell may have had a divisive personality in the Pittsburgh locker room, as his Steeler teammates were quick to react and not hold back their feelings for him and his seemingly self-serving actions. Could Bell be a cancer in the locker room? If so, he would not be the guy for Buffalo.

The Bills must think long and hard before throwing their hat in the ring for Bell. The New York Jets, among the Bills’ main rivals in the AFC East, have been interested for Bell for a very long time and have the money to do it. The Bills must be convinced that Bell is their best option, at the right price, to make such a signing worthwhile. And any offer to Bell must be substantial enough for Bell to even consider Buffalo as a destination. If a Bills-Bell marriage won’t work, however,  there are plenty of other options for the Bills in this draft class.