Amid the chaos of free agency, the NFL offseason still carries a couple of certainties.
That's why, as unpredictable as quarterback Kirk Cousins' market may be, any talk of a future Hall of Famer like Drew Brees playing for someone other than his current team in 2018 has to be prefaced with plenty of "this-is-just-for-fun" warnings.
Which leads us to Le'Veon Bell.
Barring the most unforeseen revelation of this new year, the Pro Bowl running back is going to be hit with the franchise tag for the second offseason in a row. And while Bell is saying all the right things on Twitter, telling fans he wants "nothing more than to finish the rest of my career" with the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are no indications that he's close to getting what he really wants -- a historic long-term contract. The All-Pro himself even told ESPN this week he doesn't plan to "settle for anything less" than his perceived worth.
What does all that mean?
Not a whole lot, realistically. By tagging Bell again, the Steelers guarantee that they'll have their sixth-year back under contract through 2018, and Bell would be in line to earn a career-best $14.5 million. The running back's casual threats -- of sitting out part of the season or retiring altogether -- don't change the fact that, like Brees and the Saints, Bell and the Steelers are unofficially inseparably tied together in 2018. Pittsburgh fans worried about losing "Juice" can safely expect the veteran to either suit up for the Steelers or suit up for no one at all this year.
But we're not here for the certainty. Here, we're diving into the fun stuff -- a look at what would happen if Bell somehow managed to weasel his way into a new deal elsewhere, either as a tagged trade chip or thanks to a desperate team agreeing in advance to assume, in a trade, an unprecedented extension from the Steelers.
Here, we've got give teams we think make the most sense as Le'Veon Bell landing spots in the event of an unlikely trade:
1. Oakland Raiders
New (old) coach Jon Gruden is ready to deliver instant success in Oakland before the team heads to Las Vegas, and he wants to "throw the game back to 1998," a year when his Raiders running backs out-gained his top quarterback (12 starts) in yards. What better way to do that than by poaching maybe the league's top ball-carrier from a fellow AFC contender? Their salary-cap space isn't phenomenal, but Gruden seems exactly like the kind of guy who can convince management to go all out for his guy, and with Marshawn Lynch's future up in the air, Raider Nation could use another playmaker alongside Derek Carr.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It feels like the Buccaneers haven't gone berserk on the trade market since 2013, when they coughed up first- and third-round picks -- and a $96-million deal -- for Darrelle Revis. But now might be the time for a gamble. Jameis Winston is in need of a step up in 2018, as is coach Dirk Koetter. And with Doug Martin's release confirming a glaring hole at running back, there's never been a better time for a blockbuster move, as the Bucs own more cap space than all but three teams. Theoretically, it wouldn't be difficult to sell Bell, either, considering Tampa's weather and, more importantly, its value as one of the lowest-taxed places in the NFL.
3. New York Jets
Yes, Bell himself already lambasted a fan for suggesting that $60 million isn't enough to "come run with the Jets," but this is a setting that could look a whole lot more promising in a couple of weeks. Unlike most teams, New York has the money to make a big splash at multiple positions in free agency, and it is not short on early-round draft picks. Reports indicate the team is eyeing an "impact" addition at RB after Matt Forte's retirement, and if the Jets can give Bell not only the money he wants but a brighter spotlight and, perhaps, a fellow top-dollar acquisition in Cousins, there's no telling how close the club could be to competing in 2018.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns play the Steelers twice a year, which is a problem. After all, if Pittsburgh somehow, in the unlikeliest of ways, comes around to dealing its star running back, its first thought won't be, "How can we also help an AFC North rival?" But if Bell controlled the situation, the Browns would almost have to be in play. Their history is even worse than the Jets, but Bell is from Ohio, and the Browns also have even more money to offer. Isaiah Crowell is set to hit free agency, so a three-down job would be wide open. And assuming Cleveland retains its top draft picks, the team could be loaded with fresh talent, including at QB, as well.
5. New York Giants
From Bell's perspective, the Giants would probably be a far more attractive destination than the club's New York counterpart, the Jets, if only for the chance to team up with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. For the G-Men, a deal wouldn't be unreasonable, either. Even if Manning departs after 2018, the team figures to be in good position to land a top quarterback prospect of its choosing, and Bell is young enough at 26 to be a focal point of the offense for years to come. The Giants' cap space, like the Raiders, isn't overwhelming, however, and there's a sense that Pat Shurmur and Co. would rather just rebuild the position completely.