Although the Buccaneers had one of the worst running games in the league last year and have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Doug Martin last accomplished that feat in 2016, don’t expect Tampa Bay to be in the market for Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell when NFL free agency starts in a little over two weeks.
Three easy to understand reasons.
PewterReport.com touched on this matter generally in a report on Tuesday, but offers up expanded reasoning at it pertains to Bell and the Buccaneers.
First, after years of being flush with salary cap space, recent contract extensions for wide receiver Mike Evans, tight end Cameron Brate and guard Ali Marpet, in addition to Jameis Winston’s fifth-year option salary of $20.922 million have constricted the Bucs’ cap space this year. Not to mention that recent high-priced free agent deals for wide receiver DeSean Jackson ($10 million) and center Ryan Jensen ($10 million) that have squeezed the cap situation even further for Tampa Bay.
After the new coaching evaluated the game tape, the Bucs seem to like their talent, and that includes defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and his $13 million salary, in addition to Jackson at $10 million – both of whom may not be departing this offseason. With the Bucs focused on trying to sign pending free agent linebacker Kwon Alexander, left tackle Donovan Smith and wide receiver Adam Humphries to new deals prior to free agency, there simply isn’t enough room for Bell and his $14 million per year contract demands without a player like McCoy or Jackson being released.
Second, the Bucs’ brass has finally come to the realization that high-priced free agency doesn’t work and isn’t cost effective when it comes to team building. General manager Jason Licht hasn’t gotten much return on his previous investments in cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive ends Vinny Curry and Robert Ayers, Jr., defensive tackles Chris Baker and Beau Allen, guard J.R. Sweezy and even Jensen and Jackson.
The hit ratio in free agency is even lower than it is for drafting players. The last thing the Bucs want to do is invest $14 million into a 27-year old running back that hasn’t played in a year after sitting out last season due to a contract dispute after averaging 4.0 yards per carry in his last full season of football. Bell missed 15 games over his three previous seasons in Pittsburgh due to injury, too.
And third, Tampa Bay just spent a second-round pick on running back Ronald Jones II last year, and this year’s class of rushers is pretty good and presents the team with plenty of options if the Bucs want to draft another one in case Jones doesn’t pan out. Drafting another running back would be a much more cost effective strategy than paying Bell’s outrageous salary demands.
New head coach Bruce Arians and running backs coach also like pending restricted free agent Peyton Barber, last year’s starter, who will be re-signed this offseason – likely to a one-year tender offer at the second-round draft pick compensation level around $3 million.
There will be some national media outlets that will link Bell to the Bucs over the next couple of weeks. They’ll do this out of sheer ignorance, just looking at Tampa Bay’s roster at running back and trying to make a guess as to where Bell best fits without having a full understanding of the Bucs’ cap situation in 2019, or knowing about the recent organizational philosophy shift against free agency.
Or those national reporters will listen to Bell’s representatives, who will falsely suggest that “Tampa Bay is interested” in order to drive up the market for Bell’s services once free agency commences. The more interested suitors out there that are “interested” in Bell, the higher the price tag will be.
In reality, the Bucs aren’t interested in Bell – largely because of that high price tag, but also because the team has been burned over and over again in free agency in recent years.