A plethora of exciting moves were made on Tuesday, both involving pending free agents and trade acquisitions. Surprisingly, none of those moves involved former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell—that is, until just after midnight.
Not long after Bell dropped his mixtape, news broke that he finally had his new team.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, he has agreed to a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets:
Bell was supposed to be the crown jewel of free agency in 2019. He's a two-time All-Pro who amassed 1,946 combined rushing and receiving yards plus 11 touchdowns in 2017—the last season he started. He's just 27 years old and should be well-rested after spending a year away from football.
However, things didn't quite work out that way. Yes, Bell eventually got a deal close to the four-year, $57.5 million extension Todd Gurley signed last offseason. However, the market wasn't quite as robust as some might have expected.
According to NFL Media's Dianna Russini, most general managers believed Bell's offers were in the $11-12 million-per-year range before he signed with New York.
The Jets, of course, always appeared to be Bell's best hope of getting a lucrative deal. They were armed with plenty of cap space, and they were able to up their offer after losing out on linebacker Anthony Barr, who re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport:
The Jets made Bell a final offer with a deadline, because they weren't interested in being used to get Bell a better deal with a different team.
Connor Hughes @Connor_J_Hughes
Talked about this on @SNYtv regarding the #Jets giving Le’Veon Bell a deadline: #NYJ were burned by Kirk Cousins … Dont’a Hightower … Anthony Barr. All players who used them as a means to increase their offer from another team .. then sign They don’t want to be played again
Here's the big question, though: What other teams were actually interested in giving Bell a lucrative offer?
Rapoport reported that the Baltimore Ravens were still in the Bell sweepstakes in the end, but that has been heavily disputed.
Jason La Canfora has reported that the Ravens weren't interested in Bell:
Albert Breer of the MMQB, meanwhile, reported that the Ravens weren't interested in Bell, and neither were the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills or Houston Texans:
So why were the Ravens dangled as a possibility?
As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com explained, they could have been used to drive up the Jets' offer—precisely the same thing New York was worried about:
"At a time when some reports indicate that the free-agent running back will choose between the Jets and the Ravens, a league source tells PFT that there have been no negotiations between the Ravens and agent Adisa Bakari. At all. The thinking is that someone is trying to push the Ravens as a potential destination for Bell in order to get the only remaining candidate—the Jets—to pay more."
The reality is that the Jets may have been the only team serious about adding Bell at or around his asking price. However, this doesn't mean they were the only ones interested.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen (h/t Rotoworld's Evan Silva), other teams were "waiting to pounce" if the price for Bell came down.
Ultimately, Bell is now a Jet, and the NFL got what it was hoping for when it first implemented the "legal tampering" period—excitement and suspense leading up to the start of free agency.