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Why the 49ers should steer clear of Le’Veon Bell in 2019

Bobby Horne
Jul 18, 2018 at 5:36 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers and disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell will continue to be connected to each other throughout the 2018 season and into 2019 free agency for no other reason than money.

Bell's contract situation with the Steelers hasn't been a smooth process as he recently declined the Steelers' final offer of 5-years, $70 million and chose to play on the $14.5 million franchise tag for the second year in a row. It's safe to say that in 2019 he will likely be on the market as it seems there is bad blood between the two parties.


Per Over the Cap, the 49ers are projected roughly $75 million in salary cap space after factoring in the rollover from 2018. That's a lot of money, certainly enough to pay Bell whatever he wants. But should they? No.

Don't get me wrong here, I firmly believe that Bell is the best RB in the league and think that even the $14.5 million he is making on the franchise tag is not enough. However, there is more to consider than just paying Bell because he's good.

Bell is one of the most productive players in NFL history, averaging 1,599 total yards and eight touchdowns per season during his five-year career. Will the on-field production carry over from Pittsburgh to San Francisco? If so, is it enough to justify paying Bell double 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon's $7.5 million annual average salary?

Can Bell have similar success in San Francisco? I don't think so. That's not to say that I don't think he could be productive with the 49ers, but looking a little deeper, Bell's success should be partially contributed to playing alongside quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown - both Hall of Fame-caliber players.

Defenses are weary of stacking the box with eight defenders with Brown out wide as Bell only faced eight or more defenders on 19.94% of his charted runs. Bell has almost always had space to work with. The 49ers don't currently have the talent out wide that the Steelers do. Defenses would stack the box and put the pressure on Bell all game long, forcing 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them with his arm, likely decreasing Bell's production.

Beyond that, the 49ers need to think about longevity. Bell has over 1500 touches in his career and averages 308 per season. That's a lot of miles for a 26-year-old running back who will likely want a long-term deal with high guarantees - something the 49ers haven't been keen on doing outside of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. There's little chance the 49ers would be willing to shell out major guarantees for a back nearing 30 years old and close to 2,000 touches.

McKinnon, who is the same age and has almost 1,000 fewer touches, could put up numbers close to what we would expect from Bell in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. That doesn't mean that I'm comparing the two, but Shanahan knows how to get the best out of his players.

In 2017, former 49ers running back Carlos Hyde managed to rack up 1,288 total yards and eight touchdowns. It's unclear how well McKinnon will do, but it isn't a stretch to say that he can top those numbers in 2018. McKinnon is a quicker and more elusive back with better ability as a receiver.

With the aforementioned considered, you can start to seehow signing Bell to a mega-deal might not hold value for the 49ers. They have made all the right moves so far in the current regime and inking the league's highest-paid running back would be the first move that could set them back in the long run.

The money they would spend bringing in Bell would be better invested into the defense's lack of pass rush. The 2019 free agent market may see the availability of premier pass-rushing talent in Dallas Cowboys' Demarcus Lawrence and Detroit Lions' Ezekiel Ansah. Both would be better options as the 49ers can likely muster solid production from their current running back for much less money.

As flashy as it would be to see Bell in the red and gold, it would be a costly mistake that could keep the franchise from taking its next step towards a Super Bowl run.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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