Could the Detroit Lions actually make the biggest splash of the offseason and sign running back Le’Veon Bell if he indeed hits the free agent market?
Last offseason, the Detroit Lions made a major investment into their offensive line by signing guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Ricky Wagner via free agency. Now, the Lions are looking to do the same for their offensive backfield.
The Lions desperately need a quality running back to improve what was the league’s worst rushing attack in 2017. Last year, Detroit was content allowing former second round pick, Ameer Abdullah, prove whether he could become that player or not for the Motor City. 552 yards, four scores and a 3.3 yards per carry average later, and Abdullah is clearly not the answer.
Many expect the Lions to go after a young running back in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft in response. And there are many compelling names to consider. Prospects like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, plus Georgia’s duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
Unfortunately, the one thing these prospects all lack is professional experience. And until you see them perform under the big lights of the NFL, no one really knows if they are capable of being a success on this level. That’s the one advantage veteran free agents have over these younger players.
So if the Lions look to free agency to solve their running back issues, as they did with Lang and Wagner last offseason, one name rises to the top. And that’s the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell.
"” … as we further we approach the offseason, it seems more and more apparent that Bell and the Steelers are heading for divorce,” wrote Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus. “Bell, who has been one of the most consistent players in the game over recent years, has achieved PFF overall grades of 91.2, 93.9, 91.9 and 85.4 over the last four seasons, which was good for second, first, first and seventh among running backs, respectively.”"
When Bell is healthy, he is arguably the best running back in football. The 25-year old has posted over 1,000 rushing yards in three of his last four seasons. And Bell is also a major receiving threat out of the backfield, posting a career-high 85 receptions for 655 yards and two scores in 2017. That was on top of his 1,291 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
The former second round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft also has ties to the area, having played at Michigan State.
But the cost to sign Bell would be enormous. Last season, the Steelers franchise tagged him at a cost of $12.1 million – making him the highest paid running back in the league by almost $4 million. And Bell refused an offer that was rumored to have paid him somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million for his first two seasons of the deal and then an average of $12 million a year for the remainder of that contract.
Signing a player like Le’Veon Bell would undoubtedly boost this limping Detroit Lions’ rushing attack. And there’s little doubt Matt Patricia would love to add a player of Bell’s caliber to his roster in his first season as head coach. But the Lions must decide if having the highest paid quarterback and running back in the NFL both on the same team is worth the sacrifices it would force on the rest of the team financially.