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Le’Veon Bell to the Buccaneers? Don’t even think about it

In five graphics and one photograph, we’ll tell you why signing the soon-to-be former Steelers running back would be an irresponsible waste of resources.
Le'Veon Bell has gained more yards from scrimmage per game (129) than any player in NFL history (minimum 50 games). [Associated Press]
Le'Veon Bell has gained more yards from scrimmage per game (129) than any player in NFL history (minimum 50 games). [Associated Press]
Published Feb. 22, 2019|Updated Feb. 22, 2019

Now that the Steelers have announced that they will not prevent running back Le’Veon Bell from becoming an unrestricted free agent, let the speculation about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ interest begin!

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Bucs, along with the Jets and Eagles, could pursue Bell, who sat out the 2018 season because he and the Steelers could not agree to terms on a long-term contract. If they do pursue him, it will cost them, based on La Canfora’s numbers, which haven’t been adjusted for agent inflation.

Should the Bucs pay the price?

And furthermore:

Should the Bucs pay the price? Of course not!

And anyone who even floats the idea should turn in his One Buc Place key fob immediately.

$25 million per season! For a running back! In 2019!

In case it’s not self-evident, here’s why, in five charts and one photograph, the Bucs will sit out the Bell sweepstakes and let some other team (ahem, the Jets) do something stupid.

• These are the salary cap space estimates for all 32 teams, courtesy of Over the Cap. Tampa Bay has $16 million in space. Twenty-three teams have more.

Yes, the Bucs could get to $50 million in cap space if they were to release Gerald McCoy ($13 million cap hit in 2019), DeSean Jackson ($10 million), Cameron Brate ($7 million) and Beau Allen ($5 million). That figure, however, doesn’t take into account the $14 million that will go to left tackle Donovan Smith if Tampa Bay uses its franchise tag on him. Nor does it take into account money that could go to a veteran cornerback, safety or both. Want to retain Kwon Alexander and Adam Humphries? How do you replace McCoy and Allen? Suddenly, the cap space you created has disappeared.

• Say Bell gets $50 million over three seasons instead of over two seasons. Surely the Bucs could make that work, right?

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Anything’s possible; it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to sacrifice to make it happen. In this scenario, Tampa Bay would be sacrificing its ability to add depth, and depth, by the way, is something this team has sorely lacked for years.

Here’s a look at how the Bucs would be allocating their money next season if they signed Bell to a contract with an annual average value of $16.7 million.

Jameis Winston (10.8 percent), Mike Evans (10.3 percent), Bell (8.6 percent) and Jason Pierre-Paul (7.6 percent) would eat up more than a third of the salary cap. There are 49 other players on an active roster.

• Running backs peak at age 27, according to Pro Football Reference research. Bell just turned 27. At his current pace, he’ll turn 28 next year.

• Here are the cap hits for the 10 most efficient running backs last season. If we add these figures, we get $20 million.

• Running back usage has been declining since the late 1970s, and it will continue to decline. Why? Because passing is more efficient and more efficient offenses mean higher scores and people like higher scores. We’re not going backward.

• This is James Conner:

[Associated Press]
[Associated Press]

He’s the running back that played for the Steelers last season when Bell chose to sit out. The 2017 third-round pick gained 1,470 yards from scrimmage (973 rushing, 497 receiving) and scored 12 touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s rushing offense was more efficient with Bell, but it wasn’t $24 million more efficient. Conner’s cap hit was $754,572 last season and will be $844,572 this season.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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