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Now that Le’Veon Bell‘s season is over, speculation has already started about where the 26-year-old, two-time first-team All-Pro will play next. According to a number of NFL scouts and front office executives, there’s only one team that makes sense for the Steelers star: the New York Jets.
“I think it’s a foregone conclusion,” said one Steelers source.
“That’s the place where most of us have him pegged to go,” said one NFC scout.
True, only the Oracle can see the future, but of the 10 NFL personnel sources I spoke to, six said they were certain Bell would head to New York.
There were others, too, of course.
One NFC South coaching source thought Bell would be “the perfect match with Aaron Jones,” in Green Bay. “It would be like [Alvin] Kamara and [Mark] Ingram in New Orleans.” He added that such a move would extend the career of Aaron Rodgers “by light-years.”
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Then there was this from an AFC East front office executive, who felt Miami will be the pick: “Makes the most sense to me. [Coach] Adam Gase would do wonders with Bell in that offense.”
An AFC West front office source said the Colts were his front-runners because he thinks the team will want to give quarterback Andrew Luck another elite weapon.
Lastly, one team source’s belief is the Ravens will move on from quarterback Joe Flacco, hand control of the offense to Lamar Jackson and sign Bell to help take pressure off Jackson. Bell would be Jackson’s version of Todd Gurley.
One of the executives added that a dark horse to watch is Houston. Bell, this person said, would transform the inconsistent Texans offense into the best in football.
But none have the confluence of motivations and assets the Jets possess.
Is it possible Bell could return to Pittsburgh? Yes, but the odds are remote. The Steelers could use the transition tag on Bell and match any other team’s offer, but that seems extremely unlikely given how this season played out. They could also place another franchise tag on Bell, as they’ve done twice before, but at a cost of more than $25 million, it’s unlikely.
And that’s why so many believe he will be elsewhere next season, and most think it’ll be New York for several reasons:
1. Cap room: Over The Cap projects the salary cap for next season to be approximately $190 million, an increase of about $13 million.
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The site also projects the Jets will have $106 million in cap space for 2019. That’s a staggering number and second only to the Colts’ $125 million. While we already mentioned the Colts are in the mix for Bell, their war chest isn’t so much bigger than that of the Jets that it all but makes Bell’s choice.
2. Hope: The Jets need it, and Bell would provide it. Many of the recent dregs of the NFL—the Browns, Rams, Colts and others—already have that hope.
The Jets are 3-7 and were blown out by the Bills, 41-10, when Buffalo started Matt Barkley, who hadn’t played a regular-season game in nearly two years. It was one of the worst moments in team history.
That makes for a lot of motivation to change things around quickly, and signing Bell could transform the Jets’ outlook almost immediately.
3. A meeting of minds: One of the most compelling reasons teams believe Bell will be in New York next season is they think Bell and the Jets have some type of verbal understanding of what he wants, and what that team would pay him.
This isn’t to say they’ve shaken hands or signed anything that would violate tampering rules, but wink-nod-hush conversations happen every day in the NFL, and some feel the Jets and Bell’s people may have already been winking and nodding at each other.
Hypothetically speaking, if we offered a $30 million signing bonus, would that be OK with you? Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Hypothetically, yes, that would work.
Would you like to go to hypothetical lunch tomorrow?
How about hypothetical Panera?
Notably, these officials say they do not believe Bell would simply sit this entire season unless he knew (or had a strong indication) that he had another team waiting with an open wallet, ready to agree to what he wants. Or close to it.
The Jets could be at the front of that line.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.