Buccaneers: Free agency spotlight – Le’Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

With free agency around the corner, we are going to spotlight some potential Buccaneers targets. First up is the big fish, Le’Veon Bell.

It’s no secret that Le’Veon Bell will be the biggest name on the free agent market should the Steelers let it get to that point. With barely over seven million dollars in cap space and Bell looking for the richest running back contract in NFL history, it seems very possible that it will happen. When it does, the Buccaneers are going to be one of if not the top suitor for Bell’s services.

Here’s what we know;

Le’Veon Bell’s Career

Since being a third round pick in the 2013 draft, Le’Veon Bell has been one of the most consistent running backs in the league. In fact, from 2014 through 2017, Bell has finished in the top two in production by a running back in the NFL. He has 1,229 carries for 5,336 yards, a 4.3 yards per carry career average, and 35 touchdowns. In the passing game, Bell is every bit as big of a threat as in the running game. He has 312 career receptions for 2,660 yards, an 8.5 yards per reception average, and seven touchdowns.

It’s no wonder he will command so much on the open market.

Why The Buccaneers Need Him

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It’s pretty obvious, but I’ll dive in anyway. Doug Martin is done in Tampa. Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter rolled the dice that Martin would return to 2015 form after serving his the rest of his four game suspension and it was a gamble they lost. Martin finished the season with 406 yards on 138 carries, a paltry 2.9 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. In his six seasons, he has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark twice – both times earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. In his other four seasons? He hasn’t even crossed the 500 yard mark. Inconsistencies and injuries have derailed Martin’s career in Tampa and the Bucs have running back towards the top of their needs list.

If the Bucs are in such dire need of a running back, which we know they are, why not find a way to get the best one to hit the open market in recent memory? Not only would Bell be an explosive weapon in the run game, but he will help this offense without even touching the ball. Jameis Winston is one of the best passers in the league off play action. With Bell in the backfield, the defense has to respect the threat of the run game, opening passing lanes for Winston off play action. As Gil Brandt said, Bell would unlock the offense.

What Will Bell Cost?

This is where it gets tricky. The Buccaneers have a lot of their own players they have to re-sign. Winston, Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander, and potentially Donovan Smith. Four out of five of those have to be done before the 2019 off-season begins or those players will hit free agency and break up what is considered a solid, young core. For Bell, you’re looking in the range of an average annual value of $11-14 million dollars per year.

If Bell is signed, he’s going to command a massive percentage of the cap, so Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg would have their work cut out for them to make it happen. Trevor Sikkema of Pewter Report did a great job of breaking things down in his Cover 3 column, but essentially it will lead to a lot of up front guaranteed money, which is always a big risk. Some players, once they get their money, check out and just coast by. The Bucs have to be certain that won’t be the case with Bell or it will derail any chance they have at a championship for the duration of Bell’s deal.

Will It Happen?

My gut tells me no. At the end of the day, the cost will be too great for the long term. Unless the Bucs decide to go all-in in the next two seasons before blowing everything up or living in a New Orleans Saints style cap hell for the duration of Bell’s deal, the contract will likely be just too rich. Of course, any Bucs fan would love to see this happen, and if two guys can put their heads together and figure out a way to make it work, it’s Licht and Greenberg. Just keep in mind that if Bell were to sign with the Buccaneers, it could come at the price of losing out on some fan favorites.

Next: Off-Season Position Preview - Linebackers

Check out the latest Locked On Bucs podcast below where David Harrison, Brent Allen of The PewterCast, and I break down why trading Cameron Brate would be a move that would hurt Bucs’ fans hearts, but it may be the right move for the long term.