By Chris Schisler
In news that I didn’t see coming, the Baltimore Ravens signed Le’Veon Bell to their practice squad. The former Pittsburgh Steelers star is now a contingency plan for a Ravens’ running back position hurt by injuries.
In a previous post I offered skepticism about the Ravens signing Bell. Working him out seemed like the very least they could do – it was due diligence.
Bell was linked to the Ravens in 2019 when he became a free agent. It turned out the Ravens weren’t all that interested. Before the Bell sweepstakes ended, Baltimore struck a deal with Mark Ingram.
Bell didn’t last long with the New York Jets. He had widely reported problems with Andy Reid in Kansas City. Long story short, the Ravens’ interest in Bell always seemed muted because they could have had him a couple of different times.
To the practice squad (For Now)
Now Bell goes to the practice squad. He can be called up from there, and most likely will be soon. Bell is no longer the Pro Bowl running back of his Pittsburgh days. He’s coming in as the third running back; he may not even be the only back the Ravens sign.
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec noted on Twitter that the Ravens could also sign Trenton Cannon to the active roster. This makes sense, it’s doubtful Bell would provide a replacement for Justice Hill on special teams.
The Ravens worked out several running backs after Hill’s injury. None of them seemed like great options. Bell probably has the most upside left in the tank. At this point, it’s such a low-risk/high-reward situation that the move is understandable.
What Le’Veon Bell has been up to:
Bell has only had 82 rushing attempts last season for two different teams. In 2019 he averaged 3.2 yards per attempt and picked up only 789 yards on the ground. Bell still has great name recognition. In terms of football, the trajectory has been down.
The biggest plus for Baltimore is that they get a running back who can catch out of the backfield. At this point of his career that may be where he offers the most value. In 2019, Bell had 66 receptions with the Jets for 461 yards and a touchdown. That really wasn’t that long ago.
That’s the whole draw with Bell. He’s 29 years old, and theoretically has the same skills and traits that made him elite just three seasons ago. Bell went from one of the best play-makers in Steelers’ history to a guy getting a third chance with the Steelers’ top rival. It was a long road to it, but that’s where he is.
So let’s say hypothetically that Bell gets called up at some point early in the season. Does he fit into the Greg Roman offense? Yes and no.
The things Bell has going for him is good vision and the ability to help in the passing game. The thing Bell has working against him is his running style. Bell is a patient runner who likes to see it unfold before he attacks downfield. The Ravens could take him out of his element. It could be like asking Quentin Tarantino to direct Finding Nemo.
The Bottom Line
The best advice for Ravens fans is to temper expectations for Bell. Even if Bell is a player you always wanted to wear purple and black, you need to understand the context of this signing. He’s a veteran back with baggage, hoping to become part of the rotation with Gus Edwards and Ty’Son Williams. He’s not coming in as the star you remember, and he’s not taking the top spot away from Edwards.
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Is he the running back I would have gone with? No. I certainly have reservations. After the New Orleans let go of Latavius Murray, he would have been a more drama-free option. The risk is low and the Ravens couldn’t wait to make a move. The signing was as inevitable as my mixed feelings for the signing were.