Trade a Bell? How the Le’Veon Drama Can (and Should) End

In case you have not heard, Le’Veon Bell has not played an NFL snap this season.

Oh, who am I kidding? If you are a Steelers fan, follow an NFL-related social media account, or made the mistake of drafting him in fantasy and hoping for the best (guilty as charged), you know the whole story. Considered by many as the top running back in the league, Bell put up strong numbers again in 2017, getting over 400 touches and putting up a combined 1,946 years and 11 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Steelers, getting voted first team All-Pro for the second time in the process.

However, for the second straight year, the Steelers put the franchise tag on Bell, refusing to give him the long-term contract he believed he deserved. While I would easily jump at the opportunity to play ball for $14.5 million, the cash-strapped Steelers, who had given Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million-dollar extension weeks before, decided to balk at giving the same money to Bell. Obviously taking offense, Bell very publicly bashed the franchise and demanded money worth his play. Pittsburgh did eventually make Bell an offer in July, willing to pony up $70 million over five years, but Bell turned down the offer, not wanting to play for less than his tag on an annual basis.

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Bell has told the Steelers he will return during the team’s week 7 bye. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairly so, might I add – Bell was well within his rights to turn down such a gargantuan payday, because he might be worth more. At 26, Bell is still in his prime and will continue to perform at very high levels before even being considered an old running back. Not to mention that Bell is far more than his position on the depth chart – he has been the engine that makes the Steeler offense run for the last few years. He caught 85 passes last year for over 650 yards. Bell is rare breed. Very few receivers can keep up with those numbers, and definitely not while shouldering almost 1,300 yards rushing on top of it.

One of the few other players capable of putting up numbers like that is Todd Gurley. He has done it just once, in 2017, and luckily it was a contract year for him. The upstart Los Angeles Rams did pay their man, giving Gurley $15 million a year for his services. When healthy, Bell has put up those kinds of numbers ever since he came into the league – he deserves as much if not more than Gurley. Top flight receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr., have been getting paid recently, too, getting $16.5 and $19 million a year respectively to go along with Antonio Brown’s aforementioned $17 million. For Le’Veon’s talents, he feels his contract should be in that stratosphere to play football.

However, Pittsburgh refuses to pay it, so they turned to the second-year player, cancer survivor and hometown hero from the University of Pittsburgh in James Conner, to take the reins in the backfield. While his hairstyle might be questionable (like a mop glued to the back of his shaven head), his play has been anything but. Project his numbers through five weeks for the entire season, and Conner, currently averaging over four yards a carry and almost 11 yards per catch, would get over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers Pittsburgh would be happy to get from Bell, but instead of paying over $15 million for them, they only give Conner $578,000, and they have him under control for another two seasons after this one.

So could Bell play again with the Steelers this season? Maybe. Having both Conner and Bell on the field could give opposing defenses fits in game planning, especially since Bell is capable of lining up out wide and taking screens. The issue is Conner and Bell still play very similar games. Bell might be a bit more explosive, and Conner may pack a bit of a stronger punch at the point of attack, but both have shown that they can be factors in the running and passing games, all the while making defenses adjust and opening holes for Ben Roethlisberger to find the likes of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster downfield. However, it would be hard to justify paying Bell for the rest of the season when he may not add significant value over just having Conner. Realistically, he should not stay in Pittsburgh.

Likewise, if Bell is going to leave in the offseason when the tag expires and officially become a free agent, the Steelers would be remiss not to get something back for him, and more than the third round compensatory pick Pittsburgh will likely get if he signs elsewhere. The problem about trading Bell this season, however, is the salary cap hit that comes with him. Bell is not officially under contract at the moment, but his franchise tag cap number would be about $10.3 million. There are not a ton of teams that have that much free space right now. The team looking to trade for him would likely need to sign him to a long-term deal to justify the trade as well.

So who can meet Bell’s demands? Here are the teams that could afford him for this season:

Team Salary Cap Remaining Current RBs
San Francisco 49ers $87.6 million Jerick McKinnon*, Matt Breida
Cleveland Browns $54.6 million Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson
Indianapolis Colts $52.5 million Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
Denver Broncos $34.4 million Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay
Tennessee Titans $23.1 million Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry
Houston Texans $20.7 million Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue
New York Jets $19.1 million Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell
Philadelphia Eagles $11.3 million Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
Cincinnati Bengals $10.7 million Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard
Buffalo Bills $10.6 million LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory

An interesting crew, to say the least, but unfortunately not too many places make sense. In fact, four of these teams signed new starting running backs this past offseason. The Browns, Titans, and Jets should be pleased with their new additions for now, so consider them out. The 49ers caught a bad break when their new guy, Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in the preseason, but Matt Breida has been a suitable replacement, and the 1-4 start would not justify making a brash decision when the division leader is 5-0 right now.

Let’s address the obvious ones, too. There is no way Pittsburgh deals Bell to Cincy. It would be insane to move him within the division. Denver has two rookie running backs it really likes in Freeman and Lindsay. The Bills would be a fascinating place for Bell to land, but that team is way more than just one piece away and likely not interesting in pursuing Bell anyway, especially since they are trying to shop their star running back already.

Philly has been heavily linked with this deal after restructuring Fletcher Cox’s deal to open up more cap room. However, the Eagles are also rumored to be pursuing a reunion with LeSean McCoy. McCoy fits more of what Philadelphia needs, which is a one-year rental that is at least somewhat familiar with the system. The assumption is that at 30 years old, McCoy will cost a lot less for the Eagles to acquire as well.

The Colts and Texans make some interesting suitors. Both live in the AFC South, where the Jaguars and Titans are both tied rather unconvincingly to the division lead at 3-2. At 2-3, the Texans are still very much so in the hunt. However, Deshaun Watson does not look as explosive this season in his return from a knee injury of his own, struggling to keep possession with nine turnovers on the season. Lamar Miller was injured in Week 5 and has been unconvincing in a Texans uniform otherwise. Alfred Blue provided a decent target out of the backfield in his stead, but neither is a kind of bell cow you can hand or dump the ball off to and let the magic happen. $16 million is a large sum to pay when Miller is still on the books through the end of next season, but Bell could add some relief to the Houston offense and open up their playbook a bit.

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Adding Bell would take a ton of pressure off Andrew Luck. (Wikimedia Commons)

As for Indy, take everything I just said and amplify it. Sure, the Colts are off to a 1-4 start, but they are only two games back with well over half the season to go. The offense may look like its purring, but take deeper look into the stats and you will see there is room for improvement. Andrew Luck is averaging almost 50 pass attempts per game, but has under 1,500 passing yards for the season. His 6.09 yards/attempt ratio is 32nd in the NFL right now, only ahead of the magnanimous crew of Tyrod Taylor, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford, all of whom have since been benched. Meanwhile, not a single Colts running back is averaging more than 35 yards per game. 35!!! Le’Veon Bell could vastly improve the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league, as well as provide a dynamic safety blanket for the oft-pressured Luck. Those two together could single (double?)-handedly carry Indianapolis to the postseason. Maybe them playing defense could help, too, because I doubt it would hurt.

Another interesting tidbit is that the Texans and Colts have the same assets to offer back to Pittsburgh as well. In 2019, both teams are sitting on two second round picks after making moves in last year’s draft. With the Colts getting the Jets’ pick in the Sam Darnold trade, and the Texans shipping Duane Brown to Seattle for their 2nd rounder, the Steelers may be willing to part with their formerly-beloved star in exchange for that pick maybe paired with another player or a lower round pick.

Personally, I think it make a lot of sense for the Colts to go after Bell. They can offer him whatever contract he wants basically with their ample cap space. Their offense is already fairly strong and adding Bell would only make it more threatening. Plus, Bell is an excellent pass blocker, which coupled with his mere presence in the backfield will protect Luck from opposing rushers. Even with two rookie running backs, Indy could add a franchise player for well under his usual trade value. If the Colts think they still have a shot this season, do not be surprised if they make a play for one of the best players in the NFL before the deadline in Week 8.

Until then, I’ll dangle Bell on my own fantasy trading block and hope someone bites.

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NFL Power Rankings 2018: Week 5

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1. Los Angeles Rams: 5-0 (Last Week: 1)
It was the closest game Los Angeles has played all season, but going into Seattle is always tough. The Rams defense showed some major signs of weakness allowing 190 yards on the ground. The injuries to Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp could cause some issues. The road trip continues as Los Angeles heads to Denver.

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2. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-0 (Last Week: 2)
Offense trumped defense in Kansas City on Sunday. It was an ugly game for Patrick Mahomes, but the defense created turnovers to keep it a comfortable win. Don’t be mistaken, the defense is still a major problem, but if the Chiefs can continue that bend don’t break approach successfully, this offense will outscore pretty much anyone.

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3. New England Patriots: 3-2 (Last Week: 4)
This feels awfully familiar. New England got off to a slightly rocky start only to right the ship and reassert its dominance in the division. Sony Michel is emerging as a real threat in the ground game. The Patriots probably would’ve beaten the Colts by a bigger margin if it wasn’t for two interceptions that went right through the hands of the intended receiver. The defense will need to stiffen with Kansas City headed to town.

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4. New Orleans Saints: 4-1 (Last Week: 9)
Drew Brees is now the passer in NFL history. New Orleans also looks like a playoff team. The week 1 loss to the Buccaneers is a distant memory after four straight wins. The defense is improving, especially with the defensive line. The Saints held Washington under 50 yards rushing and sacked Alex Smith three times. This team is looking scary and now Sean Payton will have a week off to study the rest of the league.

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5. Chicago Bears: 3-1 (Last Week: 5)
Chicago has allowed the third fewest yards and points per game. They also had a cupcake schedule to open the season with wins over the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Cardinals. That easy trend continues with the struggling Dolphins in week 6. The back half is not as easy, but the Bears certainly have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.

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6. Minnesota Vikings: 2-2-1 (Last Week 7)
Ignoring an absolute collapse against Buffalo, this has been a solid Minnesota team. Beating the Eagles in Philly is a big accomplishment. The biggest issue is still running the ball for the Vikings. As long as Dalvin Cook is out, Kirk Cousins will be asked to do a lot. There are few pass-catching duos better than Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Thielen just became the first receiver in NFL history to pick up 100 receiving yards in each of the first five games of the season. This team has a lot to work on, but finds itself in a good place.

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7. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-2 (Last Week: 3)
There were some signs of concern for Jacksonville against New York last week and it all unraveled for the offense in Kansas City. Blake Bortles threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. With Leonard Fournette out, the Jaguars need Bortles to do more, but it is crucial for him to take care of the football. Even the Jags defense needs some offensive support. Once again the South seems a bit weak.

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8. Carolina Panthers: 3-1 (Last Week: 10)
This could have very easily been a crushing loss if Graham Gano hadn’t hit a 63-yard field goal with seconds remaining. The Carolina defense folded in the fourth quarter against the Giants. It looks like it might be difficult to keep pace with the Saints, but with Atlanta and Tampa Bay floundering, the Panthers seem remain the only threat in the division.

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9. Cincinnati Bengals: 4-1 (Last Week: 11)
If you watched only the first half, or even the first three quarters of Cincinnati’s game, you would have a tough time seeing them as a top-10 NFL team, But after scoring 27 unanswered points to win, the Bengals look the real deal. The offense had some issues getting going, but the defense came up with two touchdowns. Marvin Lewis and company continue to find ways to win, even if it isn’t always pretty. Suddenly, the Bengals are all alone atop a tough-looking AFC North.

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10. Baltimore Ravens: 3-2 (Last Week: 6)
Baltimore took care of business against Pittsburgh, but then completely slumped offensively in Cleveland. The Ravens are struggling to find any sort of consistency on a week-to-week basis. Baltimore is 1-2 against the division now, which could come back to haunt them at season’s end with how the North is shaping up.

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11. Philadelphia Eagles: 2-3 (Last Week: 8)
The Super Bowl hangover continues for the Eagles with a home loss to the Vikings. The bad news continues for Philly as Jay Ajayi is out for the season with a torn ACL. Kirk Cousins had a field day against the defense, which is a major concern considering Minnesota cannot run the football. With a short week going to New York to face a team that would love to add to the misery and desperately needs a win, Doug Pederson has a lot of work to do.

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12. Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-2-1 (Last Week: 16)
Admittedly, I questioned just how good this team was this season last week after a loss to Baltimore. Then Pittsburgh steamrolled Atlanta at home. The Steelers took advantage of a bad team, but that is a credit to the coaching staff coming in with a good game plan. What was most impressive was the defense holding what is usually a potent Falcons offense to just 17 points. Pittsburgh has a road trip to Cincy now with a lot on the line for the fate of the division.

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13. Los Angeles Chargers: 3-2 (Last Week: 19)
Beating the Raiders doesn’t usually lead to a massive jump in the power rankings, but the Chargers dominated their division rival. Philip Rivers had a prolific day passing. The defense held Oakland to just 41 yards running. The only real concern is the ground game for Los Angeles that produced just 2.5 yards per carry. The Chargers now head to Cleveland, which is going to be a tough matchup with a stingy defense. It is the type of game Los Angeles needs to win to validate talk of a playoff run.

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14. Green Bay Packers: 2-2-1 (Last Week: 12)
Detroit shutout the Packers in the first half of this game. That should be a much bigger storyline than the historically bad day from Mason Crosby. Unbelievably poor performance from Green Bay in a divisional game it really needed to win. The Packers head home for what should be a fairly easy matchup with San Francisco. Knowing Aaron Rodgers, this team will bounce back in a big way. This team does not over look opponents.

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15. Atlanta Falcons: 1-4 (Last Week: 13)
This was an awful showing from Atlanta. Dan Quinn has a lot of questions to answer after that performance. Even with all the injuries, the Falcons completely rolled over in Pittsburgh. Chances of a playoff appearance are shrinking quickly. Matt Ryan and company need a win over Tampa Bay to have any shot at staying in the hunt.

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16. Washington: 2-2 (Last Week: 14)
Coming off a bye week, Jay Gruden should have had his team ready for the New Orleans Saints. Yes, it was an emotional game for Drew Brees as he broke league records, but Washington made it pretty easy for him. Brees finished 26 of 29 for 363 yards and three touchdowns. Losing would have been understandable. Getting completely outmatched coming off a bye week is unacceptable.

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17. Tennessee Titans: 3-2 (Last Week: 15)
Will the real Tennessee Titans please stand up? A week after beating the Eagles in a thrilling overtime game, the Titans fall flat against the Bills. It was a defensive slugfest, which is usually a benefit for Tennessee. The fact that Buffalo won only passing for 82 yards is a disappointing reflection on how much this Titans offense is struggling. Even without a ton of weapons, there needs to be done more done offensively.Lions Logo

18. Detroit Lions: 2-3 (Last Week: 25)
The Lions now own victories over Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. They also have losses to the Cowboys, Jets and 49ers. Now that loss to San Francisco was with Jimmy Garoppolo. Detroit gets a week off for Matt Patricia to figure out how to build on the positives and learn from the negatives. Continuing to put the ball in the hands of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson seems like a good place to start.

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19. Cleveland Browns: 2-2-1 (Last Week: 26)
Believe it or not, the Browns are undefeated at home. Wins over the Jets and Ravens along with a tie with the Steelers has Cleveland right in the mix for the AFC North. The AFC North is the only division in the entire league with every team at .500 or better. This defense is tough to score on, except for the Raiders apparently. The NFL is weird sometimes and the Browns tend to be right at the middle of all the weirdness. They are currently the best team to watch in the NFL.

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20. Denver Broncos: 2-3 (Last Week: 18)
This was a bit of a head-scratcher. Denver flopped in New York and allowed several huge plays to what has been anemic offense this season. Now, Case Keenum did tear apart the secondary, but the Broncos did not finish drives. Colby Wadman punted eight times, Keenum threw a pick and Denver turned it over on downs. When you have 13 total drives and 10 end without points, that is a major issue. Couple that with allowing 323 yards rushing and this three-game losing streak is suddenly feeling pretty brutal.

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21. Seattle Seahawks: 2-3 (Last Week: 20)
Seattle came agonizingly close to knocking off the top team in the league. A stellar ground game proved to the be the recipe to taking the pressure off Russell Wilson. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to halt the high-flying pass attack from Los Angeles. The Seahawks are still a really hard team to beat at home, picking up some road wins will be the difference for Pete Carroll this year.Buccaneers logo

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-2 (Last Week: 22)
How is it that the number two offense in the league is 2-2 with a major question at quarterback? Well for one, it’s Tampa. Two, Ryan Fitzpatrick is involved. The Buccaneers have no running game to speak of and the league’s worst defense. Dirk Koetter should be focused on finding who will be part of this team next season rather than trying to come up with short-term fixes.

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23. Houston Texans: 2-3 (Last Week: 27)
Houston suddenly sits just one game out of first place in the AFC South after consecutive overtime victories. It was a solid win as the defense showed up and Deshaun Watson balled out. Watson did get fairly battered, but still got the win. With a stingy Bills defense coming to town, the offensive line will need to do a better job keeping the franchise quarterback clean.

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24. Miami Dolphins: 3-2 (Last Week: 17)
This seems a bit harsh considering Miami has a winning record. However, the Dolphins have lost two straight and don’t have great quality wins. Miami also blew a 14-point fourth quarter league. Ryan Tannehill has looked like one of the worst five starting quarterbacks in the league over the past two weeks. He has completed 56 percent of his passes for 285 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

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25. Dallas Cowboys: 2-3 (Last Week: 21)
The formula for beating the Cowboys is containing Ezekiel Elliott. Easier said than done, but the Texans got it done on Sunday night. Dak Prescott does not have too many weapons around him other than Elliott, but he needs to play better. Dallas did enough defensively to win the game. If Prescott is going to stick around, he needs to win these kinds of games.

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26. New York Jets: 2-3 (Last Week: 28)
This is a raw and young Jets team. This is the type of win shows a lot of the promise this team has to offer. Still warning signs as Sam Darnold only completed 10 passes on the afternoon. New York is not going to run for 323 yards every week, but this style of play is exactly what the Jets need to be successful now.

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27. New York Giants: 1-4 (Last Week: 24)
The offense finally showed up for the Giants. It seems to be how New York’s season is going as it loses on a 63-yard field goal. Pat Schumer is finding creative ways to hide the offensive weakness, but the Giants still haven’t played a complete game this season. Until they do, they will find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreline.

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28. Indianapolis Colts: 1-4 (Last Week: 23)
It seems like there a ton of running backs on the Colts and no one knows how to use them. Indy has no running game and with T.Y. Hilton out, Eric Ebron is truly the only consistent threat the Colts have in the passing game. The defense was opportunistic, but far from good enough to beat the Patriots. Andrew Luck faces a tough Jets defense this week and will need more help from his supporting cast to get a win.

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29. Buffalo Bills: 2-3 (Last Week: 31)
It is amazing how bad Josh Allen can play and Buffalo still finds a way to win. This defense is among the best in the league. The Titans offense is nothing to write home about, but the Bills have had a way of frustrating some of the top offenses in the league. Buffalo has a shot to reach .500 with a win over Houston this week, something that seemed pretty much impossible after the 47-3 drubbing the Bills took week one.

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30. Oakland Raiders: 1-4 (Last Week: 29)
Sunday was just a friendly reminder that this is one of the worst teams in the league. Oakland had no offense to speak of, and did little to stop Philip Rivers throwing the ball. The Raiders have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Jon Gruden is going to need to retool most of it during the offseason to turn things around next year. That has to be where Oakland is looking is to the future.Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)

31. Arizona Cardinals: 1-4 (Last Week: 32)
Three straight weeks of improved play from Arizona finally nets the team its first win of the season. Granted, it was against the hapless 49ers. If the Cardinals can ever find a way to get the ground attack on track, they could start surprising a few teams. Until then, Josh Rosen is not polished enough to win games for this team.

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32. San Francisco 49ers: 1-4 (Last Week: 30)
It’s time to tank for San Francisco. After catching lightning in a bottle to end last season, the 49ers are missing their franchise quarterback and still a few pieces away from truly competing with the best of the league. Landing a top pick with a quarterback already in place could lead to trading back for a huge return.

The NFL’s New MVP: Backup Quarterbacks

The NFL changes over time. Before Lawrence Taylor, left tackles did not hold the same value as they did after Taylor battered just about every quarterback he faced. General managers adjusted based on what they were seeing. It seems like it is changing again now regrading the league values backup quarterbacks.

It feels like backup quarterback has become an infinitely more valuable position in the last few years in the NFL. With the rate of injury to starting quarterbacks, it is becoming a necessity to have a good backup. They are quickly becoming a valuable commodity across the league.

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Entering the season, Foles was the second-highest paid backup in the league, behind only Teddy Bridgewater. (Wikimedia Commons)

Think about how many backup quarterbacks you can name during Peyton Manning’s career. Go back further to Dan Marino. Or Roger Staubach. Maybe some of the ones for Marino or Staubach have faded with time, but I grew up during the Peyton Manning-era. Off the top of my head, the only name that comes up is Curtis Painter, and that is mostly because the Colts started him for their final two games of the 2009 season. One of those games was against a Jets team starting Mark Sanchez and needing a win to keep postseason hopes alive. I will forever be thankful for Curtis Painter.

I digress. The point is, most of these backup quarterbacks are pretty much unknown. There wasn’t much value in them unless you were grooming a young quarterback and he needed some guidance. Now, teams are trading for backup quarterbacks, or even notably not giving them up.

The best example is Nick Foles. The backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles had to step in after Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury late in the 2017 season. No doubt, you know what happened by now as Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and was named the game’s MVP.

Over the offseason, several teams tried to trade for Foles, seeing as Wentz would come back and take over the starting job as soon as he was healthy. Reportedly, Cleveland offered up its second round pick, the 35th overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft in exchange for Foles. That is exception value to receive for your backup quarterback, who you hope won’t have to play all season. The Eagles declined the offer though. While yes, Philly did need Foles to start the season as Wentz was not cleared for contact by week 1, there were plenty of other free agent quarterbacks that could have stepped to start for those two weeks and the Eagles would have some extra ammo in the draft. It also would have cleared a ton of cap space off the books for Philadelphia. Foles will count for $13.6 million against the cap in 2018. However, the Eagles felt they needed a strong enough backup to have in their back pocket, just in case.

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Teddy Bridgewater (right) has not started a game since 2015, but the Saints traded a third-round pick for him to back up Drew Brees. (Wikimedia Commons)

Philly is far from the only team. Several clubs moved to bolster their backup quarterback situation. The Colts refused to move Jacoby Brissett after he stepped in last season to start for Andrew Luck. Minnesota traded for Trevor Siemian in the offseason, despite breaking the bank to sign Kirk Cousins from Washington. The Seahawks traded a sixth round pick in 2019 for Brett Hundley, formerly a backup in Green Bay. The Packers felt comfortable letting go of Hundley because they already had their backup quarterback of the future in Deshone Kizer. The Packers traded for Kizer after he struggled during his rookie season with the Browns. The Saints joined the fun as well, sending a third round draft pick to New York in exchange for Teddy Bridgewater.  Now Kizer did see some action already due to an Aaron Rodgers injury, but without injury, none of these players would see the field in 2018. Their value exists due to the what if.

This whole trend might actually go back a bit further Nick Foles. It likely originates with Matt Cassel back in 2008. He stepped in after Tom Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury. Cassel, never anywhere as close to as good as Brady, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. He signed a big 4-year deal with the Chiefs the following offseason and proceeded to look way out of his depth. Even though he flamed out of Kansas City, Cassel has made the roster of five different teams in the past six seasons.

Perhaps the best example of the value teams place in having an experienced backup quarterback is the bearded one himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Harvard grad has toured the NFL as the consummate backup quarterback and spot-starter. Fitzpatrick is not a very good passer. In his career, he has completed just under 60 percent of his passes and thrown 43 more interceptions than he has touchdowns. Usually, that would mean you are out of the league, not playing in your 14th NFL season. Fitz has made a living as a journeyman backup. Spotrac puts his career earning at just over $58 million. The fact that teams still sign him is a testament to the value he still holds in the league.

In a similar boat is Josh McCown. Now a backup on the Jets as the franchise puts its faith in Sam Darnold, McCown has a made a career circling the league as a backup. He has made just shy of $50 million for his efforts despite never starting all 16 games in a single season.

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Bradford has made about $14.4 million on average over his nine NFL seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another interesting study is Sam Bradford. He has never been a great quarterback. In his career he is a 62.5 percent passer who averages about 234 yards per game. His career record as a starter is 34-48-1. Sam Bradford is also the 17th highest paid player in NFL history. Yes, you read that right. Now, that stat is a bit skewed. 15 of the 20 highest paid players in league history are currently playing. Four of the five that have retired did so in the last three years. Brett Favre is the only one in the top 20 to retire more than three years ago.

There are some other qualifiers for Bradford’s status. He is the last player selected first overall to negotiate outside of the rookie wage scale, meaning he signed a six-year, $78 million deal before ever taking an NFL snap. For reference, Cam Newton, who was the first overall pick the following year, signed a four-year, $22 million deal for his rookie contract.

Just this year, Bradford signed a one-year deal with Arizona for $20 million. Bradford has not played a full season of football since 2012. He has never made the playoffs as a starter. Yet, he somehow still manages to command money. The Cardinals also drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall this year, so they have a quarterback of the future. They also have Mike Glennon on the roster. With Rosen taking over the starting job, Bradford is now the most expensive backup in the NFL.

They aren’t the first team to do this either. The Bears did it in 2017 with Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky took over right around the same time as Rosen did. I just mentioned that Glennon is also in Arizona. Experience is key for NFL teams looking to find the solution at quarterback.

Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Matt Schaub, Colt McCoy, Drew Stanton, Robert Griffin III, Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler. The list goes on and on of players we know do not have what it takes to be starters in this league. Most of them aren’t even that young anymore and don’t represent future prospects looking for their chance. They all have jobs though due to the fact teams are valuing backup quarterbacks more than ever before.

This isn’t to say there weren’t career backups who made the occasional start for an injured quarterback. Before Nick Foles, there was Jeff Hostetler. Hostetler stepped in for an injured Phil Simms late in the 1990 season and did just enough to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. Hostetler went on to start for a few seasons with the Raiders, even making the Pro Bowl in 1994. He was never a great quarterback.

Hostetler never really returned to his backup role, unlike what so many of these current quarterbacks are doing. There are some great backup quarterbacks in NFL history, but they are few and far between.

Earl Morrall backed up Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese during his career. He played 21 years in the NFL and started fewer than five games per year on average. Steve DeBerg was replaced by Joe Montana, John Elway and Steve Young during his long NFL career. He finished with more interceptions than touchdowns thrown, but lasted 17 seasons in the league.

Most notable backup quarterbacks are few and far between. Perhaps it’s easier to name all of the current backup quarterbacks now because they are still current players. Still, it is hard to dismiss the fact that general managers and fans alike are paying more attention to the depth chart at the quarterback position than ever before.

NFL Power Rankings 2018: Week 4

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1. Los Angeles Rams: 4-0 (Last Week: 1)
Talk about a shootout! Thursday Night Football treated us to a thriller in the Coliseum. It is not there yet, but Sean McVay is starting to form the Greatest Show on Turf 2.0. Jared Goff tore apart the Vikings defense to the tune of 450+ yards and five touchdowns. With the number four scoring defense in the league, LA is the team to beat in the NFL. A win in Seattle could make this division race a formality for the Rams going forward.

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2. Kansas City Chiefs: 4-0 (Last Week: 2)
The Monday Night Football stage proved to be just the latest chapter in the legend of Patrick Mahomes. The kid from Texas Tech went over 300 yards again and had two scores. Kareem Hunt had a break out game as well. The defense is still struggling but did just enough for a fourth quarter comeback to be possible. Kansas City has a massive matchup with Jacksonville ahead. Top scoring defense, meet top scoring offense. Something has to give.

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3. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-1 (Last Week: 4)
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Jaguars won it going away against the Jets. Blake Bortles had another stellar day. Jacksonville leads the league in just about every meaningful statistical category on defense. The concern was the turnovers. The Jags had three of them without forcing one from New York. The Jets aren’t enough of a threat on offense for that to matter, but that is something Doug Marrone is going to have to fix heading into a matchup with the Chiefs.

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4. New England Patriots: 2-2 (Last Week: 6)
What’s that? It’s been 8 years since anyone won the AFC East over the Patriots? Right. New England smacked Miami 38-7, silencing all of the talk about the end of an era. This team is not as talented as in years past, but still more than good enough to win the division. The Pats get Julian Edelman back this week as it gets set for to host Indy on Thursday night.

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5. Chicago Bears: 3-1 (Last Week: 7)
All of a sudden, Chicago is having some flashbacks to the 2006 NFL season when an incredible defense carried it to a Super Bowl appearance. This time though, Da Bears have a much better quarterback than Rex Grossman. Mitch Trubisky launched six touchdown passes in a rout of the Buccaneers. Matt Nagy almost has to feel disappointed his team is off this week after firing on all cylinders against Tampa.

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6. Baltimore Ravens: 3-1 (Last Week: 8)
Baltimore took care of business on Sunday Night Football, winning the best current rivalry in the NFL. Joe Flacco played great and the Ravens defense shut down the high-powered Steelers offense. Jim Harbaugh’s defense is giving up the second fewest yards and third fewest points per game. The next step for Baltimore is finishing drives with touchdowns. Justin Tucker kicked four field goals in the second half.

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7. Minnesota Vikings: 1-2-1 (Last Week 5)
It would be really easy to look at the scoreline and think the Vikings just aren’t as good as a year ago. Minnesota played a much better football game on the road with a short week against the best team in the league. At the same time, the Vikings are one Clay Matthews roughing the passer penalty away from being 1-3. The schedule doesn’t get much easier as Mike Zimmer prepares for a road trip to Philly for a rematch of the NFC title game.

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8. Philadelphia Eagles: 2-2 (Last Week: 3)
The message so far has been to wait until this team gets healthy. It might take a bit of time for all those previously injured players to gel again as the Eagles drop another close game on the road. Looking at the box score, its tough to figure out where Philly faltered after posting 432 yards of offense and forcing a turnover on defense. The biggest issue was Tennessee going 3-3 on fourth down, all of them coming in overtime. Doug Peterson has some soul searching to do as the Vikings come to town desperate for a win.

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9. New Orleans Saints: 3-1 (Last Week: 15)
The Saints are at their best when they run the ball efficiently. It keeps the defense off the field and allows Drew Brees to utilize the play action passing game. In fact, they were 9-1 last season when eclipsing the 100-yard mark on the ground and 3-5 when failing to top 100 yards. Efficiently is putting it mildly as well after averaging 5.3 yards per carry against the Giants. Alvin Kamara had a field day with 181 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Mark Ingram also returns from suspension this week as New Orleans heads home to host Washington.

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10. Carolina Panthers: 2-1 (Last Week: 10)
An early off week for the Panthers allows them to hopefully solve a few of the issues plaguing the secondary. It will start by taking the week to integrate newly-signed safety Eric Reid. Carolina gave up the third most yards per play in its first three games. The cure for that might be the struggling Giants offense, who visits this week after managing only 18 points against what has been a terrible Saints defense this season.

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11. Cincinnati Bengals: 3-1 (Last Week: 16)
With several games heading to overtime, the Bengals might have played in the best game of the weekend and it finished in regulation. Beating the Falcons in Atlanta is a big statement for Cincy. The secondary needs to step up after allowing 432 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Bengals have also allowed opponents to convert 57 percent of their third downs, the worst mark in the league. Cincinnati has the firepower, now the defense needs to take some pressure off Andy Dalton until Joe Mixon is back.

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12. Green Bay Packers: 2-1-1 (Last Week: 12)
Aaron Rodgers said the Packers were terrible following a shutout over the Bills. The offense might not have been great, but the defense played lights out. Green Bay sacked Josh Allen seven times, forcing a fumble, and picked him off twice. Buffalo only mustered 145 yards of total offense. For a team that has struggled on defense this season, these are all good signs.

Falcons logo13. Atlanta Falcons: 1-3 (Last Week: 11)
Another week, another heart-breaking close loss for the Falcons. The Bengals have looked sharp this season on offense, so the struggles on defense are somewhat understandable, especially given how many injuries the team has suffered. Calvin Ridley also continues to emerge for the offense. Scoring points isn’t the problem. Dan Quinn needs to return to his defensive roots and find ways to hide its weaknesses on that side of the ball.

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14. Washington: 2-1 (Last Week: 14)
The week off couldn’t have gone much better for Washington. Both the Eagles and Giants lost. The Cowboys failing in their late comeback would’ve been the icing on the cake, but Washington is still atop the division. It has a tough week ahead with the Saints on Monday night, but Jay Gruden got an extra week to find ways to slow down this New Orleans offense.

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15. Tennessee Titans: 3-1 (Last Week: 20)
Mike Vrabel showed everyone that he has the guts to win football games as a head coach in the NFL. The Titans converted on three fourth downs in overtime to topple the defending champs. The offense took a little while to get going, but Marcus Mariota finally scored a touchdown. It was a poor game plan from Philly, but Vrabel and his staff put together a great game plan to maximize what little talent it has at the skill positions on offense. The Titans are going to be tough to beat.

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16. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1-2-1 (Last Week: 9)
It is time to consider that maybe the Steelers just aren’t that good. Ben Roethlisberger missed open receivers and for the first time this season, Pittsburgh really missed Le’Veon Bell, who announced he will return during week 7. The defense actually improved in a bend don’t break sort of way, but this team has a lot of questions and not too many answers after four weeks of football.

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17. Miami Dolphins: 3-1 (Last Week: 13)
Dolphins, meet Earth. Miami came down hard in a blowout against New England. Ryan Tannehill accomplished nothing under center, the running game was MIA and, despite two interceptions, the defense was gashed by Patriot running backs all game long. The Dolphins proved to everyone they are not a contender, not even really close to one, with that loss.

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18. Denver Broncos: 2-2 (Last Week: 18)
Denver came agonizingly close to an impressive upset. The ground game and defense powered the Broncos to a 23-13 lead, but faltered down the stretch when it mattered most. This is a gritty team capable of hanging with the top teams in the league. Case Keenum needs to make more plays to push the Broncos over the hump from just competing to winning.

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19. Los Angeles Chargers: 2-2 (Last Week: 19)
This was bad, but it could’ve been worse. The Chargers squeaked out a win over the battered 49ers. Los Angeles showed heart in the comeback, but it should never have been required. The defense allowed too many big plays and could struggle again with the Raiders coming to town after finally showing up on offense.

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20. Seattle Seahawks: 2-2 (Last Week: 22)
Seattle is an entirely different team on the road. It played poorly enough to lose to Arizona, but the Cardinals couldn’t get out of their own way to pull off the upset. The one positive is the Seahawks looked comfortable running the ball even without Chris Carson. They head home for a date with the Rams and a chance to pull off a major upset. No matter how shaky Seattle might be, going to CenturyLink Field and winning is still one of the hardest things to do in football.

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21. Dallas Cowboys: 2-2 (Last Week: 23)
Ezekiel Elliott is making a legitimate case for the MVP award this season. The former Buckeye leads the league in rushing by almost 100 yards through four weeks. He is also second in yards from scrimmage only behind Alvin Kamara. The reason MVP might be in order is only Cole Beasley has more receiving yards for Dallas this season. Zeke is doing it all right now for the Cowboys, who might need his heroics again in Houston to go above .500.

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22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-2 (Last Week: 17)
Goodbye FitzMagic, hello quarterback controversy. Neither Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Jameis Winston played well in a 48-10 laugher against the Bears. The Bucs defense picked up right where it left off, which is giving up massive gains through the air and occasionally frustrating running backs. This is much more the Tampa team many expected to see this season, and it could cost Dirk Koetter his job.

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23. Indianapolis Colts: 1-3 (Last Week: 21)
After a tough start, the Colts really turned things around to force overtime and almost pull off the comeback. Andrew Luck put up great numbers, but still does not look like the same quarterback he was before his injury. The running game didn’t produce much, but Nyheim Hines caught a pair of touchdowns out of the backfield. Frank Reich has achieved some positive things in Indy, but the Colts have a long way to go.

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24. New York Giants: 1-3 (Last Week: 24)
The Giants limited Drew Brees and Mike Thomas, but totally forgot about Alvin Kamara, letting him rumble for 181 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Offensively, New York has not threatened to throw it downfield and cannot find a way to establish a consistent running game. It seems like the Giants need to start thinking about the future, looking for a long-term answer at quarterback and completely rebuilding this offensive line.

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25. Detroit Lions: 1-3 (Last Week: 25)
Going into Dallas to earn a win after pulling off a major upset against New England would have caused many to forget the woeful start to the season. Instead, the Lions are 1-3 and seem unsure how to utilize the talent they have. Kerryon Johnson did not get the ball enough against the Cowboys and Matt Stafford continues to do a lot. The defense had no answer for Ezekiel Elliot though. With Green Bay visiting this week, Detroit needs to have a much better game plan.

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26. Cleveland Browns: 1-2-1 (Last Week: 26)
Heading to the West Coast is really tough. There is a lot to take away from this game. The positives are the offense can score a ton of points and the defense can generate turnovers. The negatives are the defense can give up a ton of points and the offense can commit a lot of turnovers. If Baker Mayfield can find some ways to clean up his game (four turnovers in Oakland), the Browns should start winning games.

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27. Houston Texans: 1-3 (Last Week: 28)
It required a bit of luck, no pun intended, to beat the Colts after Indy failed to convert from midfield on fourth down. That set up the Texans for the game-winning field goal in overtime. Deshaun Watson played great. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney combined for four sacks. However, the secondary gave up over 450 yards and four touchdowns. The task this week will be containing Ezekiel Elliott.

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28. New York Jets: 1-3 (Last Week: 27)
It is games like these that set the Jets back a few years. Todd Bowles seems to be trending ever closer to an exit in New York. Blake Bortles tore apart the Jets defense and New York never adjusted. Bowles continues to blitz on third down in any part of the field and Jaguars were ready for it every time. It is hard to fire a coach after drafting a rookie quarterback, but for the sake of Sam Darnold’s development, the Jets are better off doing it this year rather than waiting.

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29. Oakland Raiders: 1-3 (Last Week: 31)
At times, it seems like the Raiders are trying to lose. Oakland made a ton of mistakes on both sides of the ball and benefitted from several questionable calls by the officials. Still, it was a win nonetheless, Jon Gruden’s first in ten years. The Raiders offense showed up against what had been a good Browns defense. Oakland is going to need the offense to keep clicking to even have a chance with how poorly the defense continues to play.

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30. San Francisco 49ers: 1-3 (Last Week: 30)
For those who thought San Francisco would just go quietly into the night after losing Jimmy Garoppolo, this was a big surprise. The 49ers came extremely close to knocking off the Chargers. C.J. Beathard knows this offense well after starting several games last season. It is unlikely Kyle Shanahan and company win a ton of games the rest of the way, but they seem like they will at least be competitive.

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31. Buffalo Bills: 1-3 (Last Week: 29)
Reality set in once again for the Bills after shocking the Vikings at home in week 3. Josh Allen is still a rookie and this offensive line still isn’t good. Green Bay sacked Allen seven times in the contest. If Buffalo cannot find a way to keep the kid from Wyoming clean, he will continue to force the errors we saw in the second half in Green Bay.
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32. Arizona Cardinals: 0-4 (Last Week: 32)
Quietly, Josh Rosen might have had the best week of any of the rookie quarterbacks who started. He only threw for 180 yards and a touchdown, but he considering the Cardinals dropped at least three passes in the game and Phil Dawson missed two field goals, he did a lot to put his team in a position to win. It was improvement from the previous week in Chicago which featured an awful final few minutes for the kid from UCLA. If David Johnson can get on track, this Cardinals offense should be decent at least with Rosen at the helm.

Could Earl Thomas be the Solution to the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell Problem?

The first and third-most talked about contract disputes (Khalil Mack is safely at number two) in the NFL this year have dragged on into the regular season. If you are a football fan, you no doubt know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will not sign his franchise tag tender. You likely also know the Seahawks are locked in a heated dispute with safety Earl Thomas. Both are elite level players responsible for a lot of the success these two teams have had in recent years, but both seem equally intent on playing elsewhere in order to get a bigger paycheck. Speculation about where each could land continues to roll on, but it is possible Seattle and Pittsburgh could solve the other’s problem.

So far this year, Pittsburgh has been burned in the secondary. The Steelers have allowed the fifth most passing yards and are tied with the Saints for the most passing touchdowns given up. For Seattle, this team has stated it would like to get back to running the ball more. Unfortunately, the Seahawks rank 25th in rushing yards and have the third worst yards per carry average in the league. Even with a bevy of options in the backfield, no one has managed to really take control.

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Bell has missed 15 games over the past three seasons with the Steelers. (Wikimedia Commons)

The truth is, the Steelers no longer need Bell. He would still be an upgrade over James Connor, but the second year back from the University of Pittsburgh ranks eight in yards from scrimmage so far this year. The need to patch up the secondary is a big one. Earl Thomas would be a huge upgrade over Sean Davis. Pro Football Focus ranks Davis as the 41st safety in the league. Thomas tops the list.

For Seattle, they have a number of young backs, but the chance to add Le’Veon Bell and potentially reduce the number of hits Russell Wilson takes would be massive. Bell had the second most yards from scrimmage in the league last year. His ability as a pass blocker and pass catcher would take a ton of pressure off Wilson. Even though Seattle has a couple of young running backs, none of them will ever come close to playing at the same level as Bell as he enters his prime.

Financially, there is some interesting movement here. Bell is going to want a massive extension. Todd Gurley set the market in a lot of ways for running backs when he negotiated his extension with the Rams. CBS Sports reported back in July Bell wanted roughly $17 million per year in the deal, turning down a massive five-year $70-million offer from Pittsburgh. Seattle might be willing to go a little higher to land him. Using Spotrac, I put together a contract that pays Le’Veon an average of $15.1 million per year in the form of a 5-year $75.5-million deal. That is still short of his asking price, but it tops the Steelers’ last offer.

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Thomas has 28 career interceptions, including three this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas wants to be paid as well. Eric Berry is the highest paid safety in the league out in Kansas City. The Steelers already have a Bell-sized opening in their cap number, so absorbing Thomas’ cap hit this season would be no big deal. Signing Thomas to something like a 4-year $48 million contract should appease him. It would put him in the same category as Berry and Tyrann Mathieu in terms of average salary.

These are just some rough numbers I ran, but both seem like realistic contracts for each of them to sign. Bell and Thomas both desperately need a change of scenery. It checks a lot of boxes for both teams, filling a need, sending the player to the opposite conference to avoid playing them again and moving on from a player that clearly no longer wants to be part of the organization.