According to reports, recently released New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell will sign a one-year deal with the Chiefs. Bell was once one of the two- or three-best running backs in the NFL as recently as three years ago, but after holding out from the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2018 season he signed with the Jets in 2019 and has mostly been forgotten about (because the Jets are so irrelevant).
There is a sentiment out there that he isn’t exactly a “team-first” or “locker room” guy, but I think that’s to be expected when a player holds out for an entire season. Public perception is almost always against the players who are asking for more money than they are being offered, rather than being against the team, or ownership, who refuse to pay a player what he is worth.
At age-28, Le’Veon Bell should still have a fair amount of tread on his tires. What I know him for is being the most patient running back I have ever seen, seemingly tiptoeing in slow motion in the backfield until his blocks are set up. In his prime, I can’t remember how many times I saw him take what should have been a two-yard loss and turn it into a seven or eight yard gain. Time after time it looked like he had nowhere to go, until suddenly he did. It was really remarkable to watch.
Bell is now at a different stage of his career. He no longer has the Steelers very efficient offensive line to run behind, and he no longer has his youthful 23 year-old legs. He is clearly a veteran at this point, a guy who probably isn’t valuable as an every down back. What he brings to the Chiefs will be his ability to catch the ball, and block for Patrick Mahomes on 3rd down.
That isn’t to say he’s washed up, because I don’t think that’s the case. After holding out from Pittsburgh, and roughly one and a half forgettable years with the Jets before being disgruntled and getting released, the perception is he’s some kind of cancer. Not easy to work with. Not team-oriented.
By virtue of signing with the Chiefs, he has clearly established that he wants to play for a championship contender. He held out with the Steelers, ultimately got paid by the Jets, and now he is with the defending Super Bowl Champions. I don’t believe motivation will be an issue. In fact, I am betting that he performs to a level that will get him another fairly substantial payday once this year is said and done.
And for the Chiefs, why not? They already have the most explosive offense in the NFL, what with Patrick Mahomes at QB, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman at WR, Travis Kelce at TE, and rookie first round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire at RB. Adding one of the best running backs of this decade in Le’Veon Bell will only strengthen that unit, and give head coach Andy Reid another toy to play with when scheming for his next opponent.
As it stands, I think Bell’s biggest contribution will come in the receiving game. I don’t think Kansas City brought him in to thwart the progress of Edwards-Helaire, but rather to be a complement. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Andy Reid dial up some shotgun formations with Bell and CEH in the backfield, Kelce split wide, and Hill and Watkins on the outside. As a matchup nightmare for the defense, the Chiefs will basically have five different guys capable of beating man coverage.
But it’s also going to help the Chiefs in the running game. Despite flashes of brilliance, aside from their Week One win against the Texans where CEH ran wild, the Kansas City running game has been, at best, underwhelming. Patrick Mahomes has not had a dependable running back capable of picking up five yards a toke since Kareem Hunt was filmed kicking a woman in a hotel, and it’s not totally out of the question to think that a motivated Le’Veon Bell will actually be more productive on a per-down basis than CEH.
More than anything, I’m just happy that the Chiefs are now the top landing spot for free agents. With Mahomes at quarterback, and a Super-Bowl-or-bust mentality every year, Kansas City has turned into the place to go for marquee free agents who want to hunt for championships. Le’Veon Bell might not work out to the extent I, as a Chiefs fan, want him to, but even if he only carries the ball about eight times a game and catches a few passes, it’s still an obvious upgrade over whoever the current (and now former) backup was.
The upside is a rejuvenated borderline Hall-of-Fame running back playing for his next contract. I think Le’Veon could be worth as much as a half-point per game moving forward, which could be the difference in earning the Chiefs the #1 seed in the AFC.