After the eternally burning dumpster fire that is Adam Gase’s New York Jets released star running back Le’Veon Bell on Tuesday night, the talking heads of the NFL started chirping, and they were all singing the same song.
“What if Le’Veon Bell signed with the Kansas City Chiefs?”
And it was a good question. In his prime, Bell was arguably the NFL’s best back, and joining Clyde Edwards-Helaire in a backfield that already boasts Patrick Mahomes? Who cares if they got beaten down by the Las Vegas Raiders, the Chiefs had just put the entire conference on notice.
So that begs the question…
How Much of a Threat Is Le’Veon Bell in Kansas City?
The Clyde of It All
The move confused some, because the Chiefs already have a running back they believe in. The young Clyde Edwards-Helaire was in the offensive rookie of the year conversation after an impressive debut, and now the Chiefs are bringing another back to steal snaps?
Well, firstly, every team needs a committee of tailbacks these days. There are very few true workhorses left, and it never hurts to bring in a back that does different things than the presumed starter. Common sense says that having two backs that are capable of starting should only propel the offense further, just ask the Cleveland Browns, who balance Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield.
Secondly, CEH had a fantastic debut game… but hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since. It’s not his fault, he’s done well when he’s had the ball in his hands, but he hasn’t had that many opportunities. He hasn’t had more than 20 carries in a game since week one, and ten of his intended targets have ended up hitting the turf.
He averages a respectable 4.2 yards per carry, and nearly a full ten yards per reception, but he’s only averaging about 20 touches a game since week one. Maybe the Chiefs were worried about burning him out, maybe they were more focused on Patrick Mahomes throwing it 40 times a game, but either way, it’s not like he’s failed with the opportunities he’s been given.
Le’Veon Bell isn’t exactly Le’Veon Bell anymore. Between 2014 and 2017, Bell was one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. He averaged about 1,700 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns a season, and that’s despite missing about 15 games due to injuries and suspensions.
Equally adept as a rusher and a receiver, Bell was the engine behind the “Killer B’s” in Pittsburgh. When all three were thriving, the Steelers offense was nearly unstoppable. But… then things got complicated.
The Steelers were in a tough spot that many teams find themselves in. They had an elite running back, but with the position having a painfully short lifespan, they didn’t want to commit a ton of money (More about that here). So instead of rewarding Bell with a big contract, they opted to give him the franchise tag in consecutive seasons. If Bell had injured himself, the Steelers wouldn’t be on the hook for any money, and his open-market value would be shot, so he played his only card, he held out.
Eventually, this lead to the Steelers letting him hit free agency, where after a brief flirtation with other teams, he signed a four-year, 52.5 million dollar deal with the New York Jets.
Le’Veon Bell hasn’t had a 1,000 yard season since 2017. He hasn’t even come close. His longest run over that span is 20 yards, and his longest reception is 30. He was never the fastest guy, but he’s definitely not wining any footraces in 2020.
The last time Bell rushed for over 100 yards in a game? It was on December 17th, 2017, 1,035 days ago. He rushed for 117 yards and a score in a losing effort against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Since then, he hasn’t broken 90 yards, his average has dissolved to 3.35 per attempt, and he’s only rushed for four touchdowns. Despite being in his 40’s the entire time, Tom Brady has rushed for six scores by himself.
Le’Veon Bell’s average game since he left Pittsburgh reads like this. 16 carries for 51 yards, adding five catches for 30 yards. We’re talking eighty total yards and no touchdowns per game since the end of the 2017 season.
Since Bell’s last good game, Antonio Brown has been a Pittsburgh Steeler, a Buffalo Bill, an Oakland Raider, and a New England Patriot. The last time Bell had a good game, Alex Smith was the starting quarterback in Kansas City, the Jacksonville Jaguars were playoff contenders, and the Atlanta Falcons were the reigning NFC Champions.
Fire Adam Gase
If there’s any coach in professional football that can squander an elite player’s potential, it’s New York’s Adam Gase. Pegged as an “offensive mastermind” because he just happened to be on Peyton Manning’s staff in Denver, Gase has never done anything, on any level, with any team, to prove he deserves to be a head coach in the NFL.
With the exception of coaching the Broncos, a job where if we’re all being honest, Peyton Manning was the offensive coordinator, Gase hasn’t accomplished anything in the NFL.
Gase was the quarterback’s coach in Detroit when Jon Kitna threw more interceptions than touchdowns, he held a clipboard in San Francisco, listened to Peyton Manning call the offense in Denver, and then he was the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, where his unit was ranked 23rd in the league. In his three years as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, his offenses were ranked 17th, 28th, and 26th respectively. Then, last year, his New York Jets were 31st in the entire NFL.
Throw in a report that Adam Gase didn’t even want Bell in the first place, there’s every chance that Bell is still good, he was just being held back by Adam Gase and the New York Jets.
I don’t think Le’Veon Bell is going to set the NFL on fire again. Just based on the unfortunate crawl of time, Bell won’t be the back that he used to be. But, in a limited capacity, as a change of pace back, on a loaded offense where teams will almost always be playing the pass, I think he could be a very dangerous weapon for the Chiefs.
I think his ceiling is somewhere around what LaDainian Tomlinson did at the end of his tenure with the Jets. Maybe not a 1,000 yard guy, but definitely a contributor and one more person that defenses will have to account for pre-snap.