Why Baltimore has the fit and financial situation to deal a blow to their divisional foes
One of the major storylines this year has been when would Le’Veon Bell report to the Steelers. Since Week 11 came and went, and Bell did not report to Pittsburgh, the story has a conclusion for this season as he will not be eligible to play for the remainder of the season. But this drama will continue to unfold into next year as we shift now to wondering where Le’Veon will wind up. Many teams like the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and Indianapolis Colts have been floated as potential destinations. However, the team that might make the most sense in the end is the Baltimore Ravens.
Le’Veon Bell is a supreme NFL talent. No one needs to be convinced of that, but after a year away and some fans beginning to think that James Conner may be as good, it may be useful to remember just how dominant he is. Between 2014 and 2017 Bell reached 1,250 yards on the ground 3 out of 4 seasons. In each of those seasons he also managed to add over 600 yards through the air, that includes an 854 receiving yard season in 2014 that put him over 2,200 for that campaign. What’s more impressive is that 2014 is the only season that he played 16 games. He missed 4 games in 2016 and 1 in 2015 and was still able to tally those massive numbers. He is simply the best all-around back that the league has.
Over the last few years, the Ravens have not been nearly as dynamic out of the backfield. In 2015, their leading rusher was Justin Forsett who managed only 641 yards on the ground. As a team they averaged only 92 rushing yards per game and finished 26th in the league. Their pass catching back Buck Allen was also limited to only 363 receiving yards that year as well.
2016 was more of the same. Terrance West “led” the backfield with 774 yards rushing and their fullback Kyle Juszczyk led the backfield in catches with 266 yards receiving. The team finished 28th in rushing with 91 yards per game.
Last year, the Ravens were merely average with Alex Collins rushing for 973 yards, Buck Allen getting 250 receiving yards, and the team finishing with 110 rushing yards per game and a 16th ranking in the category.
This year has once again been a struggle with the Ravens ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards per game. They lack a dynamic run game and that is critical given how limited their options are through the air. Joe Flacco is washed up and Lamar Jackson is still very raw and much more of a running threat than a passing threat. Le’Veon Bell could serve as the center of an offense that is lacking a real identity.
A key to the perfect fit for Bell is of course the money. After all, the reason all of this started is because Le’Veon wants to make sure that he gets his. And by recent reports, getting his will come in the neighborhood of 5 years, $85M with $45M guaranteed. This deal is in line with the market setting extension that Todd Gurley signed this past offseason with the Rams for 4 years, $60M with $45M guaranteed. Bell wants what the market has established a running back of his caliber is worth. It will be key that a team gives that to him is asked, because the Steelers may match any deal. Meaning it will need to be good for them to let him walk.
And the Ravens can give it to him. In general, running backs aren’t worth that kind of money. The principle of giving Bell that deal when you can get 75% of his production for 30% of the cost. The only time it makes sense is: a) when you are close to winning and b) when you have the flexibility.
The Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot this year. Even if they make it, they likely won’t have the horse power to do much damage. But getting Bell next year could be the one piece that puts the over the top. Criteria #1 is met.
Criteria #2 looks good as well here. Because the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson they have a starting quarterback at well under market value. They can afford to let Joe Flacco go and use that money on an impact player like Bell. They will have $35M in cap space next year and have flexibility to make a play at Le’Veon. The fact that they got Lamar in the first round by trading up and not waiting gives them even more flexibility because they get an extra year of control over Lamar with a 5th year option.
The hidden factor in this that would turn the move from good to great is the obvious rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers. Not only the Ravens adding the traditional way by signing and impact player for their offense, they are also adding bay subtracting and taking away a key cog to their division rivals. By wounding the Steelers, the Ravens make their path to the AFC crown that much easier in the years to come. Not to mention I’m sure Bell would give a little something extra the two times a year he gets to square off against his former team. In the male soap opera that is the NFL, this is a scenario that we can all get behind.
Edited by Kat Johansen.
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