This is how the best teams remain the best. The Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, won the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes on Thursday night, signing the veteran running back to a one-year contract less than two days after he was cut by the winless Jets. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation for both parties and follows a trend that could confirm that Kansas City is as dynastic a franchise as many thought.
Bell, a two-time All-Pro, arrives at Arrowhead Stadium after a brief tenure in New York that ended abruptly. Despite the acrimonious nature of his departure, Bell could already be considered a winner—the Jets signed him to a four-year, $52.5 million deal with $35 million guaranteed during the 2018 offseason after he held out for an entire season, and New York will still owe him a prorated portion of his $6 million base salary.
Bell is getting paid. Now, he’s joining a team poised to make another run at a championship.
The move made almost too much sense for the Chiefs, although there’s an obvious question they need to answer. A few months ago, Kansas City spent a first-round pick on tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, now a starter. The former LSU star—granted a clear path to the Chiefs’ starting role once returning starter Damien Williams opted out of the year due to COVID-19 concerns—has been a solid contributor. Edwards-Helaire had an exciting debut, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Texans. He’s cooled since, though, amassing 100 scrimmage yards just once in the past four games. His negative-12 rush yards below expected ranks eighth worst among qualified ballcarriers and his negative-0.15 rush yards below expected per attempt is tied for 10th-worst, per Next Gen Stats. He’s learning, and there are still signs of meaningful production. Edwards-Helaire is 10th in the league in rushing yards (344), averaging 4.2 per carry. He’s a versatile back whom the Chiefs have aligned out wide (13 snaps, per Pro Football Focus) and in the slot (eight) to keep defenses off balance.
Edwards-Helaire is only 21 years old and is on a four-year, $10.8 million rookie deal. He’s no longer likely to earn the lion’s share of backfield reps this season. The challenge—and opportunity—for the Chiefs is to turn that into a positive. Edwards-Helaire and Bell should complement each other well, increasing the possibilities for coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to get creative with the pair’s usage—as if they needed any more versatile players to accomplish that.
At his best, Bell has been among the quintessential dual-threat running backs of the last several years, a group including Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey; Bell has recorded three seasons in which he’s rushed for 1,000 yards and racked up 500 receiving yards (2014, ’16, and ’17). Bell clearly hasn’t been the same player with the Jets over the past year-plus, but his potential in New York was always limited, considering how terrible Adam Gase’s team has looked in virtually every other facet of the game since his arrival.
When quarterback Patrick Mahomes inked his 10-year, $503 million contract extension this offseason, it solidified the direction of the franchise. “We’re chasing a dynasty,” Mahomes captioned a video he tweeted after signing the deal. In team sports, dynasties require transcendent players, like Mahomes, and visionary coaches, like Reid. They also need a replenishing supply of talent to support their cores. Tom Brady has six rings not only because of his own immense talent but also because of the personnel Bill Belichick surrounded him with. Joe Montana has four rings because of his own skill, plus the supreme talent of the supporting cast put together by Bill Walsh and John McVay. These players can come in the form of highly touted rookies, journeyman role players, or, in Bell’s case, former superstars thought to be past their best, but who still might have something to offer. If the Chiefs have learned anything from the Belichickian book, investing in available star veterans on cheap deals is a key to sustaining success.
Belichick has had success acquiring star veterans via below-market deals, including Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau, Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis, and Antonio Brown. Cam Newton, a former league MVP, joined New England on the veteran minimum this offseason and quickly outperformed the deal’s value. Not every move worked out. But many did, and those hits were memorable, sometimes keying Super Bowl runs. Perhaps Bell could provide a similar boost for Kansas City.
Welcome my brother! Let’s get it! https://t.co/AgUEcuxy05— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) October 15, 2020
This isn’t the first time Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has taken a low-risk gamble on a former star. Early last season, Kansas City signed veteran tailback LeSean McCoy, who started nine games and finished the year as the Chiefs’ second-leading rusher (465 yards on 4.6 yards per carry). As the regular season wound down, Kansas City also added a 37-year-old Terrell Suggs to aid the pass rush ahead of the postseason. He didn’t generate a sack, but during the postseason, he notched four tackles, two QB hits, and one pass deflection, even logging snaps during Kansas City’s Super Bowl victory against the 49ers. In the 2017 season, the Chiefs, needing secondary help, signed Revis, who appeared in five games (two starts).
Bell should outperform any of Veach’s previous bargain buys. The former Steelers back is still only 28 years old and recently expressed annoyance with his lack of usage with the Jets. He’s much earlier in his career than any of those previous signings. Additionally, he should benefit from better opportunities than he’s had in New York. Defenses won’t be able to key in on Bell in Kansas City the way they could when he was with the Jets. At least, not when Mahomes is playing quarterback and surrounded by the likes of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman.
The Chiefs didn’t have to add Bell. They wanted to because they understand that a Super Bowl run requires keeping every option available, and if Bell can resemble anything near the dynamic player who nearly gained 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2017, that is a scary proposition for every other team in the NFL. It could reignite an offense that has, at times, looked sluggish this season. That’s the best-case scenario; the worst-case is that Bell has no impact at all. Even if that’s what happens, it won’t lower Kansas City’s prospects of winning a title in the short term, and it won’t obliterate the club’s cap space in the long run. Bell’s signing isn’t the first of its kind along the Chiefs’ path toward building a dynasty, but it could very well be a signature one.