Should the Steelers trade Le’Veon Bell?

NFL Offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but should the Pittsburgh Steelers consider trading him?

In just 12 games last season, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had 1,268 rushing yards (fifth in the league) along with 75 receptions for 616 more yards and nine total touchdowns. He has been franchise tagged by the team, but he has yet to sign the tender ahead of the July 17 deadline to reach a long-term deal this year.

Bell has plenty of good years ahead of him, at 25 years old, and he’s absolutely one of the best running backs in the NFL. But he has also played all 16 games just once in four seasons, due to a combination of injuries and league discipline.

The franchise tender for running backs this year is worth $12.1 million, which would put Bell clearly at the top of the pay scale for running backs. The next highest-paid running back, in terms of base salary, is LeSean McCoy at $6 million. In a long-term deal, Bell’s side could fairly argue for the next two years worth of franchise tag dollars to be fully guaranteed at signing. Pro Football Talk estimated that to be $26.6 million covering the first two years of the contract.

If he does not sign his franchise tender, Bell could holdout into training camp without being fined. It doesn’t seem like things are at the point for Bell, but an aggressive idea has been offered.

Tim Benz of DK Sports Radio in Pittsburgh has said the Steelers should consider trading Bell. More specifically he proposed a swap for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has his own contract situation right now with the Los Angeles Rams.

“Lev Bell for [Los Angeles Rams DT] Aaron Donald. Would you do it?” Benz asked. “You gotta think long and hard, don’t ya? Long term, I’d absolutely do it.”

That specific trade reeks of an idea a local fan would come up with, since Donald is a Pittsburgh native and a Pitt alum. The Rams also have their own young running back in place with Todd Gurley, and he has time left on his rookie contract. Taking on Bell, and his potential future salary demands, is just not a viable move for the Rams. And that leaves out weakening their defense by trading Donald.


Benz did back off his initial words a bit, by pointing to a lack of good options behind Bell for this year and the relative depth the Steelers have along their defensive front. But the idea of trading Bell is not that outlandish, if the Steelers are hesitant in invest long-term in a guy who has not always proven to be reliable.

If a multi-year agreement is not reached by 10 days from now, but Bell signs the tender, the option to trade him would theoretically be open. Trading a running back in his prime is rare, but not unprecedented when a new contract is involved (see Eric Dickerson-1987).

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