Bears need free-agent RB Le’Veon Bell to boost sputtering run game
The Bears need all the help they can get on offense, especially in the ground game, and Bell could be their answer.
This offense, especially the feeble running game, isn’t good enough for the Bears to turn down a gift like Le’Veon Bell becoming available just because they’re worried about a little drama.
It’s true Bell always has brought drama with him, but he’s also brought something else: production. And when you’re near the bottom of the NFL in points, rushing and virtually everything else offensively, he’s worth a look.
Bell is worth more than a look after the Jets cut him Tuesday. The Bears would be negligent to bypass him.
But it would be very Bears-like to steer clear solely because he eventually could be a headache, and coach Matt Nagy didn’t sound like he’d be blowing up general manager Ryan Pace’s phone.
“I think he’s a good running back,” said Nagy, who watched Bell run over his Chiefs for 507 yards over four games. “That’s stuff I leave up to Ryan. I just know this: We absolutely love our running backs here . . . and I leave that stuff up to Ryan.”
Nagy made a similar comment about Leonard Fournette when running back David Montgomery got hurt in the preseason.
Bell is a former All-Pro and still more than a year away from his dreaded 30th birthday, the unofficial sell-by date for running backs. Last season, playing in one of the few offenses more dysfunctional than the Bears’, Bell put up 789 yards rushing and 461 receiving for the Jets. The Bears haven’t had a player hit 1,250 total yards since Jordan Howard in 2016.
They haven’t had a playmaker other than wide receiver Allen Robinson going on two years now, and there’s even more urgency to find one with Tarik Cohen out for the season. Bell, who has three seasons of 600-plus receiving yards, has the potential to fill Cohen’s role and then some.
Bell had 67 yards from scrimmage on 13 rushes and one catch for the Jets in his final game Sunday against the Cardinals.
One argument against signing Bell is that it could stunt Montgomery’s growth, but the Bears don’t have the luxury of worrying about that. If Bell still can make something out of nothing — a necessary skill given the Bears’ offensive line woes — Montgomery will survive a brief reduction in opportunities.
Assuming Bell would debut Oct. 26 against the Rams, he’ll be a 10-game rental on something close to the veteran’s minimum. That won’t ruin Montgomery.
The Bears bypassed talented running backs Devonta Freeman and Fournette in September as they still had Cohen.
And while Montgomery might develop into the multipurpose running back the Bears envision, he isn’t there yet, nor can he overcome an unsteady offensive line that just lost left guard James Daniels.
If the post-Cohen plan was to have Montgomery take on his own role and Cohen’s, it flopped against the strong run defenses of the Colts and Buccaneers. Montgomery totaled 56 yards on 20 carries and 10 catches for 60 yards in those games.
He’ll almost certainly look better Sunday against the Panthers, who are 31st at 5.4 yards allowed per rush, but Montgomery only has two 100-yard games in his first 21 starts. Had he done more to this point, Bell wouldn’t even be in the conversation for the Bears.
Another concern the Bears would almost certainly raise is the potential contaminant to their pristine culture, but how strong is that culture actually if all it takes to break it is Bell? And if Bell causes disruption, as he did for the Jets, the Bears can cut him.
Nagy portrays the Bell decision as Pace’s call, so it’s on him to make this happen. He says he likes to go all in and leave nothing to regret, and if that’s really how he thinks, signing Bell is the way to show it.