There is enough time between now and the NFL trade deadline that the Le'Veon Bell situation is not really hitting a fever pitch. But things have clearly changed: the Steelers are now willing to listen to offers for the superstar running back after making it clear this offseason and preseason they weren't interested in trading him despite Bell making it clear he will not be showing up any time soon.
In fact, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, who joined me on the Pick Six Podcast -- the only daily NFL podcast in the entire world, you should subscribe to it here -- a deal is actually likely at this point because the Steelers have essentially decided they are done with Bell (who has also decided he is done with the Steelers).
"I think a deal gets done, but it's impossible to do the deal the Steelers would like to get done, a fair value football trade," La Canfora noted. "You've got a disgruntled player who they don't think they can bring back to their locker room, so that decreases value. You can't extend the contract, that significantly decreases value. No one's seen him on a football field, even in a preseason game, to see what he looks like, outside of street clothes, in six months. That's decreasing the value."
"All those mitigating factors mean they're not going to be able to get the trade that they would have been able to make before the draft," La Canfora added. "But there's still a trade to be made."
One of the big problems is the locker room factor: JLC thinks the rift between Bell and his teammates might run deeper than the things we heard from at the start of the year. Antonio Brown "would be cool" with him, but La Canfora thinks the linemen -- David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, etc., -- and even Ben Roethlisberger might not be interested in seeing Bell stroll in late in the year. Additionally, ownership is getting tired of the situation.
The whole thing might be too far gone.
"They don't think he doesn't want to be there. They think he's made it very clear he doesn't want to be there. And now they think their players, with a couple of exceptions, probably don't want him anyway. The Rooney Family was against this: we don't reward holdouts. I don't think it's a holdout, but they do," La Canfora said. "Regardless, they feel like he's not fulfilling his level of commitment. They feel like he's out there rubbing their face in it by taking pictures on jet skis and at the club and on the yacht and all that stuff while they're busting their butt trying to save their season.
"They've taken the temperature of the locker room and they've seen guys come out publicly and rip a player's paycheck like I've never seen professionally in the history of covering sports. And they've seen now, this team that tends to have a lot of drama and then galvanize from it, they think maybe we're coming together now. So we don't need this guy showing up whenever he decides and messing everything up."
Pittsburgh can also look to the league for a roster exemption for Bell, to allow them to carry 54 players for an undetermined amount of time (maybe two weeks?), which JLC referred to as a "sledge hammer." There would be some serious debate/negotiation as to how Bell and the Steelers would handle compensation during that stretch. Don't bank on Bell signing his tender if he isn't assured he will be paid during those weeks. It's all a huge mess and it is trending towards Bell being done in Pittsburgh.
"Once you reach this point with a player of this stature, he's gone," La Canfora added.
So the two things that are left to ask are ...
What can the Steelers get for Bell?
JLC believes it's possible they could land more than a third-round pick at this point, which would be a pretty big upset for Pittsburgh. Initially he thought a third-round pick was the maximum compensation for the Steelers in this case, but could see them doing a little bit better. A second-round pick is probably their max return, because of Bell's contract situation and the fact he could end up being a rental for a half season.
But don't expect them to take anything less than a third-round pick -- if he leaves after this season and signs a big deal in free agency, it would very likely net the Steelers a third-round compensatory pick, which would be in the 90s or so. They're not going to take a fourth-round pick this year from a contender instead of waiting for the comp pick. But they might consider a third from a team with a chance to win it all, and would certainly be willing to knock out a deal if a second-round pick was heading back their way.
Who will trade for Bell?
I floated the Redskins (weird with Peterson but, man, Bell would be good in Jay Gruden's system), plus the Packers and Dolphins as possibilities. You've got to consider yourself a contender to make this move, you can't be a major AFC obstacle to the Steelers and you can't be loaded at running back. The list is actually smaller than you think.
JLC agreed on Green Bay and Miami, added the Bucs as a landing spot and then threw in a spicy super sleeper: THE EAGLES.
"To me the Packers make a ton of sense. The Bucs make a lot of sense. The Dolphins -- they've kind of gone anti-splashy moves lately, but that would the Tannenabum/Steve Ross model," La Canfora said. "I've got a sleeper team for you: the defending world champion, fly Eagle fly Philadelphia Eagles."
And when you hear the logic for it (again, you could hear said logic by subscribing to the Pick Six Podcast, a DAILY NFL PODCAST) it actually makes a lot of sense. The Eagles could move Nick Foles to a team in need of backup quarterback or starting quarterback help for now or the future, opening up some cap space ($8 million with a trade)
"[This would be] the ultimate Howie Roseman move. Trade Nick Foles, get something back for him and then blammo, create cap space and money. Go to your owner and say 'I'm going to turn Nick Foles into Le'Veon Bell, all you gotta do is pay him.' Jay Ajayi is up at the end of the year anyway. They have no commitment to him. Sproles is banged up again. Do they really want to be going into games with Corey Clement and whatever else? That's my sleeper team.
"With Carson, there's going to be a lot of three-step drops. Who better to go out there and save the day? They're obviously trying to win right now. They've already made a financial commitment so that's not an owner who is going to let $8 million scuttle the chance to get an All-Pro, every down running back.
"What's imperative right now more than anything else in Philadelphia? Pass protection. Who's a better pass protecting running back than Le'Veon Bell? Think about it."
It actually makes a ton of sense. The Eagles are competition within the state of Pennsylvania, but they're an NFC team the Steelers would only have to worry about seeing in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh will sign for playing Bell for a championship right now. (The Patriots can be ruled out for that very reason, even though they make a lot of sense in terms of fit and willingness to trade.)
Bell would give the Eagles offense some juice. Philly is dealing with a banged-up Alshon Jeffery (coming off shoulder surgery) and a hurt Mike Wallace (fractured fibula) in terms of wide receivers. They're seriously thin at pass catcher -- Wentz's first seven completions of the 2018 season last week all went to tight ends.
He's a great pass protector, a great runner between the tackles and an excellent receiver. Philly has passed on the chance to spend big at the running back position, but we have seen the Eagles trade for a star running back in the middle of the season, with the Eagles acquiring Ajayi from the Dolphins at the deadline last year.
The Eagles just won a Super Bowl but they have a window with Wentz on his rookie contract to keep pushing for another title. Going all in and grabbing Bell for a second- or third-round pick would fit Roseman's MO.