Tim Benz: How the Steelers could wind up trading Le’Veon Bell
Should the Steelers trade their All-Pro running back? If so, why now? What can they get back? How can they make it happen? Are they letting Bell win this contractual staredown by doing so?
There are a lot of questions to be answered. None of which we will do definitively here. But we’ll try.
Who would win this stalemate if Bell gets traded?
If Bell’s goal was to simply get out of Pittsburgh and put the screws to the Steelers, then it’s Bell. He’d get to make whatever would be left of his $14.5 million for the franchise tag year elsewhere. Then he’d then hit free agency.
But if Bell’s true goal is to preserve his body for the open market, then he has gained nothing. What’s the difference between risking injury in New York as opposed to risking injury in Pittsburgh?
From a Steelers perspective, for 2018, they’ve already lost. They lost the opportunity to get a final, full year of Bell. A trade would punt on at least six games of Bell should James Conner get hurt. They lost in terms of whatever haul they could’ve acquired before the season as opposed to now. They lost in terms of whatever they could’ve done with that $14.5 million in cap space.
But how could they have predicted a double cross from Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari? At least in this scenario, they’d be upgrading from the minimum return for departure that the collective bargaining agreement allows.
What would it take to get a deal done?
From the Steelers end? Not much. I would imagine to send him to an NFC team that they won’t play the rest of this year, just a second-round pick. After all, that’d be better than the third-round compensatory pick they’ll get if he walks in a conventional manner through free agency after the season.
If the potential targeted team is an AFC rival, more than that. If it’s an AFC North team? At least a first-rounder.
Where might Bell wind up if a trade happens?
According to numbers crunched by Over The Cap, eight teams can swing a trade now and stay under the salary cap. The Jets are one of those teams. They make sense. They aren’t in the AFC North. They don’t play the Steelers this year. They are usually not a threat in the AFC. They have to get by the Patriots to win the AFC East every year. Bell would probably like to play in a big market and may be inclined to extend a deal there in the offseason. Then there’s the added benefit for New York of bringing in a stud running back to help rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
But my choice would be Tampa. Now that the Steelers have passed the Bucs on the schedule, they wouldn’t have to worry about facing Bell for three years. Tampa may not be able to afford Bell under the cap now. But according to Over The Cap, the Buccaneers could acquire him before the trade deadline without making any moves. They may also be able to pick him up earlier if they restructure a few contracts or move some salary off the books back to the Steelers, or involve a third party.
Also, giving Bell to Tampa, which was averaging 2.7 yards per carry going into the game on Monday night, would set up Bell to play against the other three AFC North rivals between now and the end of the season, thus potentially helping the Steelers.
When can a trade happen?
The trade deadline itself is October 30. The sooner, the better, though, if the Steelers want to do it. Unless, of course, they are waiting for a contending team to lose a running back to injury.
Why would the Steelers trade Le’Veon Bell now?
It’s possible the Steelers thought Bell looked too out of shape in those jet ski photos. It’s possible the Steelers never expected Bell to stay away this long. It’s possible they needed to see a little success from James Conner and Stevan Ridley. It’s possible they are tired of his act and that of the locker room in general. It’s possible they were waiting for a few teams to get desperate.
It’s likely it’s a little bit of all of these.
How can a deal get done?
Bell would have to agree to sign the remainder of the franchise tag and report to the new team. And he’d have to be willing to do so without the promise of a contract until after the season.
By extension, the acquiring team also would be bringing him on board with zero assurance that he’ll be there beyond 2018’s last game.
Of course, an under-the-table deal could be worked out. Should that occur with the Steelers, Bakari and the new team so that “fair” compensation would be returned to Pittsburgh, every other team would cry foul.
If Bakari and the new team worked out a deal after a trade was completed, the Steelers might cry foul. Or Bakari could feign a long-term deal with a new team, then pull the rug out from under that club.
But Bakari would never do that because he’s a totally trustworthy and above-board kind of guy, right?
So, aside from all that, this is all pretty easy to figure out.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.