Running Back Market Will Include Le'Veon Bell

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) plays in an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

It’s tag season in the National Football League. Tuesday marked the first day for clubs to designate franchise or transition players and we’ve entered a two-week for teams to make those designations before the March 5 deadline. But one player who won’t be getting any kind of tag is Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell.

"Le'Veon is still a great player," Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters Wednesday. "We can't afford to use any other type of tags. Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

The 27-year-old Bell refused to sign a franchise tender last season, electing to skip the year in the hopes of becoming a free agent this spring. But the Steelers still held some cards early this week with the option to placing a transition tag on Bell, which would have allowed the club to match an offer or trade him to a team that would be looking to give him a long-term extension.

That won’t happen and Bell is set to become an unrestricted free agent, giving the Steelers an opportunity to get a compensatory draft pick in 2020.

As we begin our free agency preview series with a look at the running backs, Bell is one of the top names on the entire market. The 6’1”, 225-pounder is an offensive dynamo, a unique runner equipped with amazing patience and excellent vision. But what separates Bell from the rest of this free agent running back class is he could change his position to wide receiver and still flourish.

In 62 regular-season games, Bell has rushed for 5,336 yards while averaging 4.3 yards per carry and amassed 35 touchdowns on the ground. He also had 83-, 75- and 85-catch seasons in 2014, ’16 and ’17 respectively. He is a quarterback’s best friend and the Jets have a young passer in Sam Darnold whom they are eager to build around.

Other Notable Backs Scheduled to Become UFAs
RB Bilal Powell: Over the course of his life, Powell has always found a way to find daylight even when there didn’t appear to be a hole in sight. Now at the age of 30 and coming off season-ending neck surgery, the future for Powell is not clear. But the fourth-round pick out of Louisville in 2011 has had a stellar run with the Green & White, ranking tenth in franchise history with 3,446 yards on the ground while averaging a gaudy 4.4 yards per carry. He also has been more than a capable receiver, hauling in 264 receptions. And the sturdy Powell has always been one of the team’s most dependable blockers, jumping in the way of oncoming traffic to give his quarterback an extra second or two.

RB Tevin Coleman: Like Powell, Coleman has averaged 4.4 yards a carry throughout his career. Last season in Atlanta, the 6’1”, 210-pounder, who posted a 4.39 in the 40 at his pro-day workout, set career highs in a number of categories including starts (14), rush yards (800), yards per carry (4.8), receptions (32) and receiving scores (5). Coleman, who will turn 26 in April, has a gear that not a lot of backs can reach in the NFL.

RB Mark Ingram: While Ingram has publicly expressed a desire to stay in New Orleans, the man who was born in Hackensack, NJ has an expiring contract. His usage was down in 2019 but Ingram is an interesting case because his yards per carry averages from 2015-18 have been 4.6, 5.1, 4.9 and 4.7. The 5’9”, 215-pound Ingram also averaged 51 catches annually from 2015-17, so he is no stranger to catching the rock out of the backfield.

RB Spencer Ware: Productive in a starting role before Kareem Hunt joined the Chiefs, Ware has little wear on the tires. In four pro seasons, the 5’10”, 229-pound back, who missed all of 2017 due to a torn PCL, has averaged 4.6 yards on his 340 carries.

RB: C.J. Anderson: A member of three different rosters in 2018, Anderson improbably thrived late with the Rams. The 5’8”, 225-pound bowling ball rushed for 167 and 132 yards in the Rams’ final two regular-season games before he churned out 123 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in LA’s wild card triumph over the Dallas Cowboys.

RB Mike Davis: The South Carolina product, who rushed for 348 yards in his first three pro seasons, churned out 514 yards in Seattle last season along with 34 catches.

RB T.J. Yeldon: Still just 25, Yeldon filled the role as complementary back to Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville the past two seasons. Yeldon set career highs with 55 catches and four receiving scores in 2018.

RB Adrian Peterson, RB Marshawn Lynch & RB Frank Gore: This trio has tasted a lot of success in the National Football League, but the Jets don’t figure to be in the market for backs whose ends would seem to be in the very near future. Peterson, Lynch and Gore will be 34, 33 and 36 when the 2019 regular season commences.

RB Jay Ajayi: Never say never but a reunion between Jets head coach Adam Gase and Ajayi, who was sent from the Dolphins in 2017 to the Eagles in exchange for a fourth-round pick, would seem to be extremely unlikely.

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