At this point in the 2018 regular season, it’s too late for the Chiefs to call Le’Veon Bell for help. But come March of 2019, Bell needs to be the first player Kansas City calls in NFL free agency — with an offer the running back can’t refuse.
Even though quarterback Patrick Mahomes is at the forefront of what has been a season of passing explosion in the NFL, Kansas City is missing Kareem Hunt’s abilities as a big-play receiver and strong red-zone rusher. The Chiefs have managed their RB situation well since Hunt was released as a result of his disturbing off-field incidents, but now Spencer Ware is dealing with injuries that will keep him out of Thursday night’s monumental AFC West showdown with the Chargers, leaving them to rely upon versatile third-stringer Damien Williams and recently re-signed backup Charcandrick West.
In the end, while the Chiefs still might get home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, Hunt is personnel loss capable of keeping them short of Super Bowl 53, as well as title chances in the future.
Hence the sudden need for Bell.
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This is only Year 2 of Mahomes, meaning the Chiefs have two years left of his bargain rookie contract. According to OverTheCap.com, they also will have about $44 million in salary cap space for 2019 to give them flexibility in free agency.
Bell has been tied to other teams like the Jets and Colts, but if given the choice and if the deals are equal, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t want to be part of a Mahomes-led offense — with a real chance to win a championship. Bell’s elite receiving skills, along with his patient, often explosive running, would be maxed out under coach Andy Reid. Bell, refreshed for his age-27 season after a year away from football, could easily pick up where he left off with the Steelers.
From the Chiefs’ perspective, with both Ware and Williams unsigned for 2019, they could look for another Hunt-like steal in the draft. But there’s no reason to mess with an unknown when they can afford to splurge on Bell and know he will fit their offense as a third matchup nightmare with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
With Mahomes’ cheap contract in mind, Kansas City general manager Brett Veach was aggressive in 2018 free agency. He added wide receiver Sammy Watkins on a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. There has been a limited return on that investment. On defense, Veach also spent a lot for disappointing inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens at five years, $45 million with $25 million guaranteed.
Bell is a more worthy investment then either of those players. And given the Mahomes contract window, the length of the deal is easy to figure — it should be three years to cover the QB’s club option season in 2022. That also bridges the deal to when Bell turns 30 that February.
The price is more tricky, but here is a suggestion: Todd Gurley got $45 miliion guaranteed as part of his four-year, $57.5 million deal with the Rams. The magic numbers for Bell should be three years, $42.5 million, all guaranteed. That would represent three times the amount he would have earned under the franchise tag in 2018, only with longter-term security.
Bell is more of a neccessity than a luxury for the Chiefs, and they’re in the unique position to pay a little above market for him. He won’t be able to find a better situation from a suitor anywhere else. And the opportunity to stick it to the Steelers while playing for a better AFC powerhouse shouldn’t be lost in all this, either.
The Chiefs suddenly need a back of Bell’s caliber. Bell suddenly needs a winning team that will have as much money to spend as the Chiefs will have in 2019.
Who says no?