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.

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.

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.


Shocking trade changes the landscape of the NFL

It might have only been a swap of two players but the impact is immense. A trade that no one saw coming was agreed upon today between the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles swapping to big name players. The Eagles sent star running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills in exchange for the promising Kiko Alonso. The trade will not be finalized until Tuesday because that is the official start of the new league year but it seems pretty safe to assume that this deal is going to go through. The deal is a shocking one that will impact much of both team’s offseasons.

If I am an Eagles fan, I am not happy right now. Sure, Alonso is one of the most talented young players in the league but he is still relatively unproven. He has played one season in the NFL in 2013 and then missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. So even with how productive he was as a rookie, Alonso is not a guarantee, particularly coming off the major injury. This also comes off as Head Coach Chip Kelly showing he will not be bullied in Philly. He landed yet another ex-Oregon player for his squad and while I think Alonso will be a boost to a battered linebacking corps, the team definitely had other needs.

On top of all of that, McCoy is now a Bill. Philadelphia just sent the best running back in franchise history packing because Kelly “did not like his contract.” With how much the landscape of the league has shifted to a pass-happy one, McCoy certainly does carry a hefty price tag at tail back but his impact on the game expanded well beyond the ground game. The man known as Shady did it all in an Eagles uniform. He racked up 1300-plus yards rushing in three of the past four years. He also caught at least 40 balls every year of his career but this last one. McCoy is a multifaceted player with the big play ability to break a game open. He will be sorely missed in Philly next year.

For the Bills, this shores up their injury riddled backfield. The addition of McCoy also ensures that C.J. Spiller will be on his way out, as he has already announced to the media. It also lessens the Bills’ concerns at quarterback. This takes a lot of the pressure off E.J. Manuel to lead this offense and gives him a new weapon in the passing game. Concerns have been raised about McCoy’s ability to hold up under the stress of another season of 300 plus carries but the likelihood is that Fred Jackson will spell him and keep his carry count down closer to 250 on the season. Rex Ryan has always been a fan of having multiple backs to shoulder the load. The Bills managed to do a lot to help their offense with this acquisition and avoided hurting their defense. Buffalo’s defense ranked in the top five last season even without Alonso and will be ready for the challenge again with few starters likely to be leaving.

What this means for both teams going forward is that their offseason plans have now altered. The Bills, who sit without a first round draft pick this season, will likely focus on adding depth to its front seven and offensive line with their draft picks. It also leaves them with plenty of money to resign a couple of defensive studs as well. There is no doubt that this team will be in play for a big name corner as well as Ryan loves cornerback depth. For the Eagles, they now jump into the top five of teams with money to spend this offseason. That could mean that they can lock up Jeremy Maclin to a long-term deal as well as take a stab at a big name free agent to solidify that defense. Byron Maxwell is already rumored to be headed to the City of Brotherly Love. Could Ndamokung Suh join him to solidify this defense? That is now a possibility with the $48 million the Eagles now have to spend. With no clear starting running back on the roster, the Eagles now become players to draft one of the talented rushers in this year’s draft.

Both teams ensured that they will look different heading into next year. It seems like the Bills will be buying into Rex Ryan’s ground and pound mentality with the two-headed dragon in McCoy and Jackson. Meanwhile, the Eagles are showing commitment to rebuilding a defense that let down the team in big games last season. Kelly also officially put his stamp on the team in his new role as head of personnel. Lots of work is still left to be done on both sides but this is clearly a big jump-start into the reshaping both teams are doing to make a run at the playoffs in 2015 after narrowly missing out on the action last season.