Le’Veon Bell a Miami Dolphin? It is a notion that seems patently ludicrous and wonderfully tantalizing all at once. Part of you knows it’ll never happen, but part of you savors even the smallest possibility.
The Dolphins and new personnel boss Chris Grier owe it to themselves to imagine it could be Miami for whom this Bell toils. Dolfans are allowed to consider the idea because when last I checked, dreaming was still legal, and free. Me? I see the topic the way a big dog eyes a ribeye bone with meat left on it.
The Dolphins need dynamic talent wherever and whenever it is available. Start there. Bell, the estranged Pittsburgh running back, becomes a free agent on March 13, and it is believed very unlikely the Steelers will exercise their option to match Bell’s best offer, meaning he’s going somewhere.
The market for Bell will be large, with the Jets, Colts, Raiders and Eagles out front among speculated bidders. Bell turns 27 on Feb. 18 after sitting out all last season in a contract dispute, and if he isn’t the NFL’s best back by consensus, he certainly should be on anybody top tier along with Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and maybe Saquon Barkley.
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That Miami should covet the idea of having Bell is obvious. Then came a recent report by fansided.com quoting a source saying Bell prefers to sign with the Dolphins. It doesn’t seem far-fetched. Bell owns a place in Miami. You’ve probably seen him traipsing around South Beach. He’s the guy who looks really rested.
Bell spent much of his holdout season down here. We saw him jet-skiing on Biscayne Bay. Saw him holding a thick stack of dollar bills at E11even, a 24-hour nightclub with trapeze dancers. Watched as he debuted a new rap EP at Miami’s Rockwell club.
So, um, Bell living full-time here and working for the Dolphins seems as if it would be mutually desirable.
Two things would stop it. Both are huge hurdles.
▪ 1. Money, of course.
Bell cost himself $14.5 million by sitting out in 2018. That was after he turned down a five-year, $70 million offer by Pittsburgh because it included “only” $17 million guaranteed. Bell reportedly will be seeking a deal similar to what Gurley just signed: Four years and $60 million — with $45M guaranteed.
Somebody will pay it, and plenty of teams are better-positioned than Miami to do so. The Colts, for example, lead the NFL in salary cap space with $117.,4 million, and two of the Dolphins ‘ AFC East rivals, the Jets and BIlls, are second and third with $88.9 and $82.9M. The Fins are fifth from the bottom with a mere $12.5 million in current cap space.
(And you wonder why Mike Tannebaum got sacked as personnel boss? How can Miami be in the same losing boat as the Jets and Bills for so long and yet have such a worse cap-space situation? Answer: Too many years of too many dumb contracts given).
Miami could simply decide Bell is too pricey. Or they could see him as a gamble, as a high-mileage back who may have peaked. But, make no mistake, if they see as a dynamic, three-down back in his prime as many other teams will, there are ways to afford him.
The Dolphins would more than double their cap space simply by cutting or trading quarterback Ryan Tannehill and saving his $13.2 million cap hit. Robert Quinn, DeVante Parker, Andre Branch and Danny Amendola are other expendable parts whose departure collectively would save another $35.3 million.
In other words, there are ways for Miami to be in the market for Bell. But here’s what else could impede any interest:
▪ 2. Miami’s apparent new start-over philosophy.
Tea leaves read at owner Stephen Ross’ and Grier’s postseason news conference to announce the firing of coach Adam Gase seemed to indicate a willingness by the team to lose (tank) in 2019 in order to get a really high draft pick in 2020. I wrote in this recent column why I think that’s a risky strategy, but if Miami is serious about it, spending big to sign Bell would surely seem at odds with any notion of tanking.
I’m not big on this all-or-nothing philosophy on building (or rebuilding) your team.
We see the Marlins in the midst of that as they enter Year 2 of the Derek Jeter regime — restocking a barren farm system with prospects because A) the cupboards were bare and B) conveniently, the reboot also drastically pared the player payroll and saved Jeter and primary owner Bruce Sherman a couple of tons of money.
A more moderate alternative would have been to think prospects and to start from the ground up, yes, but with strategic exceptions.
For example, Christian Yelich (who went on to be league MVP for the Brewers) was on a very team-friendly contract here. There was every reason to keep him as a major piece to build around, barring a windfall offer much greater than what Miami actually got.
Likewise, now, with in-his-prime all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto. If somebody isn’t offering the sun and the moon for your star, keep him.
In the Dolphins’ case, I like the idea of getting younger, of divesting from the likes of almost-36-year-old running back Frank Gore and defensive end Cam Wake, who turns 37 next week. Age should be a factor in all free agent signings. I also like the idea of moving on from Tannehill by drafting (or otherwise) acquiring a quarterback who can lead you into a better future.
But being better now by making a player like Bell a part of that better future does not preclude any of that other stuff from happening.
Le’Veon Bell is going to be the shiny Maserati gleaming in the free-agency showroom this spring. The Dolphins need to at least be one of the teams checking out the price tag and kicking tires.