I am not sure what kind of shape Le'Veon Bell is in. I'm not sure exactly what he is up to down in South Beach and where his head is, or whether he would be ready to make an impact in Week 4 or not.
But it's about time for some NFL team -- outside of the Steelers -- to find out, and it's about time Pittsburgh's ownership came around to accepting the concept that trading the perennial All-Pro isn't any sort of concession to him, but rather a necessary reaction to the predicament the player has put them in. The Steelers already have enough drama and turmoil without the weekly consternation about the whereabouts of the MIA running back. There are serious reservations within that organization about what kind of condition Bell is in and how ready to contribute he would be, and with each passing week trepidation mounts about how he will be received within the Pittsburgh locker room if he were actually to report back to work.
The Rooney family is decidedly old school and principled, and they don't believe in capitulating to what they would deem a "holdout" player. (I would argue that merely opting not to sign an offer sheet is not the same as reneging on a signing contract.) I get all of that, and it has served them well. But it is a sign of growth that they are now open to dealing the disgruntled player, which now untangles the hands of general manager Kevin Colbert to try to clean up this situation.
Some enterprising teams have been calling the Steelers for a while to monitor the situation, and that is likely to increase with Bell's availability now hardly a secret. I'm not sure the Steelers will get anything close to what Bell's stats would signify as fair value under the circumstances, but it's about time they begin to finding out in earnest. Given Bell's absence, lack of football activity, injury history, suspension history, hefty $850,000 a week salary, and the inability of any team to extend his contract from the current franchise tag, the Steelers are hardly dealing from a position of strength. I tend to think they don't land more than a mid-round pick for someone who is arguably the best football player on their entire team, but if it's roughly equal to the 2020 compensatory pick they would get when Bell departs as a free agent, then might as well pounce on it and move on.
And while the market for his services is unlikely to expand beyond a half dozen teams, and while there are all of the natural caveats I just listed about Bell, I'd still make the case for a handful of teams going for it and taking the chance. Here's where I believe Bell would potentially make the biggest impact, and teams that should be exploring this option most fully.
1. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers isn't right and won't be, probably, for quite some time, if at all, wearing a bulky brace on his injured left knee and hobbling around on Sundays. But this team can't afford to waste another season of his prime. The Packers lack for natural, proven running backs, and the screen game will be Rodgers' best friend, especially now with his line nicked up again. Coach Mike McCarthy is a Pittsburgh guy with relationships with the Steelers. Rodgers needs help. An athlete of this caliber could be a boon, and the Packers still have money in the budget, as their pursuit of Khalil Mack indicated.
2. New England Patriots
The Steelers would hate the very idea of this, but imagine Bell in this offense? Wouldn't have to go by committee as much. Could line Bell up in the slot a ton, offset by Julian Edelman on the other side when he is back from suspension in a week. Tom Brady is way over 40 and lacking for weapons even with the Pats taking a shot on Josh Gordon already. Again, I know it's remote -- but you think the Browns really wanted to deal Gordon here, either? Future draft picks mean nothing with Brady and Bill Belichick chasing more history and the Pats dynasty closer to the end than the beginning.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Heaven knows this team is starved for offensive weapons, and while they are likely looking at a rebuild, the presence of Russell Wilson gives them a chance, and they haven't had anyone they could remotely depend on running the football (besides Wilson) since Marshawn Lynch retired. With Wilson constantly under pressure, the checkdowns and wheel routes are imperative to the survival of this offense. If new Seahawks coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't going to utilize run action as much as they used to there, then Bell should be an especially good fit. The Seahawks are one of the more aggressive trading teams in the NFL, and -- just thinking out loud here -- Earl Thomas would be a boost to a reeling Steelers defense.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fitzmagic ain't gonna last forever. And who knows what Jameis Winston will be like when he returns from suspension. They are loaded with weapons in the passing game but have a huge question mark at running back. After a torrid 2-0 start, already knocking off some NFC heavyweights, why not fortify for the season? The NFC South is likely to be tough, and Peyton Barber (2.6 yards per carry) and Jacquizz Rodgers (2.0 yards per carry) might not be able to carry the load.
5. San Francisco 49ers
This actually made a lot more sense before starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was likely lost for the season to an ACL injury Sunday. In fact, I would have had them leading this list prior to that. Now, I'm not sure it makes much sense. They lost Jerrick McKinnon for the season and have been proactive in investigating players like Mack and Gordon, and Kyle Shanahan could do some damage with a back like Bell in the fold. But as a one-year rental, this is a trade that a team in basically Super Bowl or bust mode should make.