While it won’t happen right away, don’t be surprised if Bell makes his way back to the Steelers after a couple of years off the roster
It seemed like the sky was falling in 2018 for the Steelers. Only one of the former “Killer Bees” was set to remain on the team as an exodus of talent was underway. Antonio Brown had lost it and was demanding a trade, which he got by way of the Raiders. As for Le’Veon Bell, he finally hit free agency and signed a monster deal with the Jets.
While the sky was falling then, it has a whole different look now. Brown is effectively out of the league and Bell was just released by the Jets after one and a half disappointing seasons. The rumors are already swirling about where he will land. While far from a guarantee, it isn’t impossible that he finds his way back to the Steelers.
Now, to be clear, this won’t be an instantaneous thing. Bell won’t be flown in this week, signed to a contract, and starting on Sunday. The Steelers have a good depth chart at running back. James Conner is looking more like his healthy 2018 self while Benny Snell has shown to be a capable reserve. As well, Anthony McFarland has provided some splash as a change of pace option.
The issue with this year is Conner’s health, as he has yet to play an entire season. He already missed most of the opener with injury, so what happens if he gets hit with the injury bug yet again. The expectation would be for Snell to likely take over, but he has shown some more limitations as a starter as well as a fumbling issue. This isn’t to say Snell can’t be the guy, but he has provided some doubt this season on if he could successfully handle such a workload.
Steelers will be down a running back next year
Even if Conner stays mostly healthy this season, he is more than likely leaving as a free agent by the end of this season. It seems unlikely he will be back with the Steelers due to the cap issues the Steelers will have along with the history of paying big money to running backs has caused teams. While the Steelers could opt to run with Snell or invest yet another draft pick into the position, signing a veteran like Bell to a cheap deal could make the most sense.
Bell benefited from a strong Steelers line and his ability to do damage from all over the field as a runner and a receiver. He could assume a similar role next year with the Steelers, manning the “bell-cow” role while Snell stays as the power back and McFarland serves as the change of pace player. This would keep the unit strong and deep, and given that Bell struggled less with injuries than Conner has, it could lead to more overall success from the unit.
This reunion would ultimately come down to price, as the Steelers wouldn’t offer Bell much more than the minimum to come and play. Considering he left the Steelers over money issues; he may not be willing to return on the cheap. That said, leaving the Steelers proved to be a mistake, and considering his age and ability in the Steelers offense, he could a one-year deal with the Steelers turn into one last decent payday the year after. Conner got his big deal, now it could be time for him to come home and show the NFL he still has what it takes to be a starter.
The Steelers showed this offseason that they are willing to bring back former players at a cheap price. Both Sean Davis and Joshua Dobbs are examples of this. Does this guarantee that Bell returns? Of course not, he would need to be willing to play cheaply and humble himself to even return to the team after what transpired. If all of these factors come together, a reunion makes a lot of sense next year.
This isn’t what I necessarily want but based on the recent history with the Steelers’ willingness to bring back players, Bell returning next year isn’t impossible. Assuming he would be willing to play at a reduced price for one season and be willing to share his role like Conner does with the backups, Bell could make sense in a Steelers uniform next year.