If the NFL rumors are true, the Le’Veon Bell may have eaten his way out of a huge payday.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers confirmed this week that they have no plans to use the franchise or transition tags on the All-Pro running back, Bell appears set to become one of the biggest free agents of the offseason. But there could be a major hitch; the New York Daily News reported that Bell put on 35 pounds during the season as he remained on the sidelines, reaching 260 pounds.
The report claimed that Bell hit that mark “at some point” during the year he’s spent away from football, so it’s not clear if he is still at that weight, but there are already reports that teams are wary about signing him. Pro Football Talk reported that the Jets, a team mentioned as a potential landing spot for Bell, have been concerned about his potential conditioning problems.
The report went on to add that there could be a plus to spending a year away from football, as he trades a bit of (alleged) weight gain for time away from the gridiron and less wear and tear. Bell was a workhorse in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, leading the league in touches in 2017 with 406 — the highest mark the NFL had seen since DeMarco Murray had 449 in 2014.
Bell’s team has denied the reports of his weight gain, with trainer Pete Bommarito telling Fansided that the running back remains in excellent shape.
“It’s so untrue it’s laughable and ridiculous,” Bommarito told the outlet. “He has stuck to the plan and stayed in shape all year. It’s ridiculous. Where does this stuff come from? Who says this? Nobody asked me.”
Whether the rumors of his weight gain are true or not, Le’Veon Bell could have a hard time finding the massive payday he’s likely hoping to get. The market for running backs in the NFL has seen a sharp drop off as “running back by committee” has become the norm across the league and nearly all teams move toward pass-centered offenses. As ESPN noted, running backs that have seen a workload as heavy as Bell normally see sharp drop off afterward.
“It can be argued that teams aren’t going to sign Bell with the expectation that he will tally more seasons of 400-plus touches,” the report noted. “But those clubs should be aware that on average, these 27 backs averaged only 3.3 more seasons with as many as 250 or more touches in their careers following their first 400-touch season.”
That could make it difficult for Le’Veon Bell to get a long-term deal in free agency, the report added.