In a trip around the NFL free agency rumor mill, Fansided’s Matt Verderame calls the Bears a team to watch in the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes. Hello. But is this something we fully buy? The Bears are in the thick of a competitive window, sure, but do they have what it takes to pull it off?
Short answer: Yeah, probably. Longer answer: Yeah, probably … but it’s complicated.
Based on the aggressive moves we’ve seen from Bears GM Ryan Pace in the recent past (moving up in the first round to draft the quarterback he wanted, landing a hot and popular head coach, making sweeping changes in free agency, and pushing his chips to the center in a trade for Khalil Mack), we can’t dismiss the idea of the Bears being in on Bell. And if you think about how Matt Nagy used his running backs, as well as the team’s consideration of signing Kareem Hunt (before he signed with the Browns), then it’s hard not to imagine the team actively seeking an upgrade at the position – something Bell would certainly provide.
Bell is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro with three 1,200+ yard rushing seasons under his belt and four years with at least 1,200 scrimmage yards. He is a true three-down back who is a powerful runner, excellent in pass-protection, and a remarkable receiver out of the backfield. But that’s only when he’s, you know, actually on the field.
As you’ll recall, the Steelers running back sat out 2018 as part of a contract dispute and forfeited a one-year deal worth $14.5 million under the franchise tag in the process. Bell confirmed to ESPN last March that he turned down a contract worth $42 million over the first three years of the deal, which gives you an idea of the ballpark he wants to play in with his contract negotiations.
For the Bears to enter that ballpark, they’ll need to be creative with moving contracts and shedding cap space. Using OverTheCap.com’s salary cap calculator as our guide, the team could cut tight end Dion Sims, inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, and outside linebacker Sam Acho to push the team’s salary cap space to $16.455 million. Executing a trade of running back Jordan Howard would slide that number up to $18.55 million. At this point, the Bears would be in a place to get into the conversation with Bell – and that’s before considering the potential cap space that can be opened up with the restructuring of contracts currently on the team’s payroll.
Of course, that’s only half of the story – the Steelers still hold the keys to Bell’s future. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports the team’s plans as of now include using the transition tag for Bell. As we learned with cornerback Kyle Fuller last season, the transition tag would allow Bell to explore the market for a deal of his liking, while also giving the Steelers the right to match the offer sheet. This would be a prudent move for the Steelers, who probably want to keep Bell on their team – especially if star receiver Antonio Brown’s request to be dealt to an NFC team comes to fruition.
Even though the Bears appear to be handcuffed because of the current state of their salary cap, these situations can be fluid. Stay tuned, because if you blink, you might miss the Bears do something that can really put them in the Super Bowl conversation.